Mike’s Top Ten of 2018
As of the original postings of these lists, this is the most recent year. We’re under a year since my initial list has been posted, so not a whole lot of time has gone by for me to have changed my opinion from what it was then. Though I will say, enough time has gone by for me to call myself out on my bullshit and cut the pretense.
Though admittedly, I find that most of the time when things change on the lists, it’s not because I was forcing something on that shouldn’t have been there, it’s usually because I’m under the gun when I choose the list. I often have just finished watching mostly everything from the year (sometimes I don’t even get to do that) and some of the choices I have to decide on based on a single watch. I’m usually cramming second watches for things (if I even can) within a two day period, and usually I’m somewhere else, around friends or family and I have to do it all on the fly. So things end up on that are just easy choices that I don’t have to stress over. And most of the time they turn out to be the right choices over time. But sometimes I do admittedly need that extra space of a year or more to really know what my true feelings are. So as such, while you won’t see too many changes from the list you saw in December, some things will shuffle around a bit and what I kind of figured to be true at the time has held out to be true now. So really, the moral of this is — time wins out. The truth always gets revealed over time.
As for 2018 as a whole… I didn’t like it at the time. I thought it was an incredibly weak year without too much memorable stuff in it. Now, of course, having a year to let this movies sit, it feels like a really respectable top ten list that’ll hold up just fine. The lower tier stuff, it’s just gonna take time to figure out where that shakes out in terms of a strong or weak year. Ultimately, I’m pretty pleased with how these ones are holding up for me so far.
Mike’s Top Ten of 2018
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
11-20: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Blindspotting, First Man, The Front Runner, Never Goin’ Back, Ocean’s 8, Revenge, Springsteen on Broadway, Suspiria, You Were Never Really Here
Tier two: Anna and the Apocalypse, At Eternity’s Gate, Creed II, Eighth Grade, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, I Kill Giants, Isle of Dogs, Leave No Trace, Mandy, Mid90s, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, The Old Man and the Gun, Ready Player One, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, The Sisters Brothers, Sorry to Bother You, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Tully, Unsane, White Boy Rick
Tier three: American Animals, Black Panther, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Christmas Chronicles, Cold War, Damsel, First Match, Game Night, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Mirai, The Night Is Short Walk on Girl, Okko’s Inn, The Other Side of the Wind, Private Life, A Quiet Place, Set It Up, They Shall Not Grow Old, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, What They Had
Tier four: Ant-Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Infinity War, Bird Box, Bumblebee, Deadpool 2, Dragged Across Concrete, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, The Great Buster, Hal, Hearts Beat Loud, Madeline’s Madeline, Maiden, Outlaw King, The Polka King, Searching, Shoplifters, Small Town Crime, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Thoroughbreds, We the Animals
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I put it as my #10 originally, but I knew this was gonna go here. I knew that at some point I’d stop kidding myself and say, “This is the best movie of this year.” Because it is. I think I didn’t want to put the obvious choice at #1 and also was about ten days removed from having seen it for the first time, and it just wasn’t enough time for me to have sit with it and fully processed it. So now, having that space, I’m very comfortable in saying that this is the best film of 2018.
Alfonso Cuaron makes yet another masterpiece, on the level with Children of Men and Gravity. And, further, this is his masterpiece. Every filmmaker has that one that feels like it’s their singular film. The one that best describes everything about them as a filmmaker. Sometimes they have the personal masterpiece and the public masterpiece. Someone like Elia Kazan has that. His public masterpiece is probably On the Waterfront. But his personal masterpiece is America America. It’s just the one that is their personal statement that perfectly encapsulates who they are as a filmmaker and their voice as an artist. And this is Alfonso Cuaron’s.
It’s a movie based on his own childhood, told from the perspective of the family’s housekeeper, who in a lot of ways, raised him. Yalitza Aparicio plays the housekeeper, and she is stunning here. She’d never acted before, and gives one of the best performances of the year. The entire film is just perfect. Cuaron’s direction is sublime, and he achieves nothing short of miraculous with this. There are sequences in this that I will never forget. It’s the best film of 2018.
2. If Beale Street Could Talk
“I don’t want to sound foolish, but remember love is what brought you here. And if you’ve trusted love this far, don’t panic now. Trust it all the way.”
This is the one movie of the year that is really close to being the absolute best film of the year, and it feels like, while people know about it and respect it, they don’t really see just how good this is. If Widows was criminally overlooked, this film is criminally taken for granted.
I think it’s partially because it’s Barry Jenkins’ followup to Moonlight, which is a masterpiece. It’s incredible. And this feels stylistically like a cousin to Moonlight. But it also feels like people decided before it came out that it wasn’t gonna be as good, or that they were over it or whatever, so they just kind of left it alone. And it’s a shame, because in some regards, this might be a better movie than Moonlight.
It’s the story of a love between two people, and, as the opening titles tell us, the titular street the film takes place on exists everywhere, in every city. It’s two people who have been essentially bonded from childhood, who were always destined to be together. And now, one of them is in prison, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. And to make matters worse, she’s pregnant. And so now it’s a struggle to deal with the impending birth of the child as well as trying to prove the innocence of this man. And it’s a stunning achievement.
It’s a film about what it’s like to be black in America. And it’s a film about love. It’s about, no matter what the world throws at you, no matter how beaten down you are by the system, or by other people, don’t let it diminish the love you have for others and for yourself. And it’s just beautiful. I cannot speak highly enough about this film. Don’t even look at the ranking for this movie. This and Roma are the two best films of 2018. Bar none. They are the two best. And no matter what else you take away from this year, if there are two movies from 2018 that you need to see, this is one of those two.
People are gonna go back to this in five, ten years and realize what a masterpiece this also is. Don’t be one of those people. Get on this movie now, because it’s flat out amazing.
3. Green Book
“Just write what I say… ‘The distance between us is breaking my spirit. My time and experiences without you are meaningless to me. Falling in love with you was the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”
“‘Falling in love with you’ …This is very fucking romantic… ‘was the easiest thing I have ever done. Nothing matters to me but you, and every day I’m alive, I’m aware of this. I loved you the day I met you, I love you today and I will love you the rest of my life.”
“So, can I put, uh, ‘P.S. Kiss the kids’?”
“A P.S.? “
“Yeah, like, at the end.”
“That’s like clanging a cowbell at the end of Shostakovich’s Seventh.”
“Right. And that’s good? “
“It’s perfect, Tony.”
There’s not really a whole lot to say about this one. People have a lot of strong opinions about this. And I won’t refute any of them. All I can do is like what I like and leave everyone to like what they like.
I knew about this movie for about a year before it came out. I have the Farrelly brothers on my Directors List, which means that I track every movie they make. So I knew Peter Farrelly was making a movie with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali that, when I read about it, sounded a lot like Driving Miss Daisy. And, having seen Bruce Beresford’s Mr. Church with Eddie Murphy, a movie that seemed to have some sort of awards aspirations that just fell completely flat and was just sort of okay at best, I didn’t think this would be anything more than that. I didn’t even think it would come out that year, because I couldn’t fathom that it was actually gonna get any sort of awards attention.
And then I had the chance to see it early, like, second week of October early. And I heard it getting good reviews out of festivals and people were saying it actually was good. So I thought, Okay… let’s see what this is about.” So I sit down to watch it, completely expecting to ridicule it at the end. But then I found myself liking it. And after a certain point, really liking it. And I was utterly stunned by that. Because I couldn’t fathom that it was actually a great movie.
Viggo and Mahershala make the movie work with their performances and their chemistry, and it’s actually a really well-written movie that somehow, despite hitting enough stereotypes also manages to avoid a lot of them and also use some of them in a way that doesn’t feel as heavy-handed as I would have expected from a movie like this. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are there and aren’t great (the scene at the beginning with the glasses in the sink is one that does not work), but I constantly found myself being charmed by this movie despite having no reason to be and every reason to go in the opposite direction.
I spend a solid two months telling myself, “There’s no way I liked it that much.” And then I went back home for Christmas and I took my mother to go see it. And admittedly, this is a movie that was designed for people of a certain age who aren’t necessarily “movie” people. Anyone on the internet who talks about movies constantly… a lot of them are gonna hate it. This is for the people who just wanna watch stuff. And so often those people get discounted. But what I’m finding is that there’s a reason the same movies keep showing up on the TV whenever I go back home. It’s because they’re watchable. And there’s something to be said about the watchable movie, even if it doesn’t fit whatever social importance quota we want to put on these movies.
But watching this for the second time, I realize — I just love this movie. I like watching it. I like the performances. I think it’s great. Everything on top of that, with the awards and all that… I don’t really care. That’s not on the movie. That’s on everyone else. I’m not holding it against the movie that it’s not a hard-hitting movie about race. I don’t feel the need to hate something just because it doesn’t meet my socio-political aspirations. And so that’s why this is my #3 movie of this year. And if I’m being perfectly honest… it’s probably gonna be the movie I go back and rewatch most often among everything on this list. There’s no point in me doing this if I can’t be honest about what I like. And I like this movie.
“What I’ve learned from men like my father and your husband is that you reap what you sow.”
“Let’s hope so.”
I feel like just about every top ten list has that one movie that makes me go, “Why wasn’t this a huge hit that was on everyone’s top ten list?” This is that movie for 2018. There are other underrated movies this year, but this is the one where it feels criminal.
It’s Steve McQueen’s followup to 12 Years a Slave. It’s based on a 1980s BBC miniseries and was adapted by McQueen and Gillian Flynn (of “Gone Girl” fame). The plot is about a group of women whose husbands (all criminals) die in a job gone wrong. They are: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki. Cynthia Erivo becomes part of the team, but she’s not one of the widows. Davis’s husband was Liam Neeson, and he was the mastermind behind the crew. Debicki’s husband was John Bernthal, and without him, she’s forced to become an escort in order to survive. Rodriguez’s husband was Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, and because of his gambling debts, her store is being taken away from her. But also, we find out that the money that Neeson and crew stole was from Brian Tyree Henry, a crime boss running for alderman of his Chicago neighborhood. And he wants it back. So now Davis has to get the women together, using Neeson’s journal – which contains plans for his next job – in order to pull off that job to be able to pay him back while also maybe saving themselves from falling to ruin after their husbands’ deaths.
It’s great. There’s also so much more going on here. The political stuff alone is worth its own film. Colin Farrell plays the son of Robert Duvall, patriarch of a political family who has held power in the neighborhood for decades. And there’s this wonderful Shakespearean aspect to his character where he doesn’t really want the position yet feels forced to take it. And there’s the racial aspect of it, since this is all happening on the South Side of Chicago. You can tell that this was adapted from a miniseries, because all the storylines are so rich. You could easily add an extra hour to this movie and it would still be interesting.
And the cast — Davis, Rodriguez, Debicki (who in particular is amazing here), Neeson, Henry, Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Duvall, Erivo, Garrett Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Jacki Weaver, Bernthal, Lukas Haas — it’s great from top to bottom. Truly one of the best movies of this year, and one that I don’t understand why no one bothered to see it.
5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
“The greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.”
For a brief moment, this was the first documentary to be labeled a #1 film of the year by me. I generally don’t go for documentaries, and if I do, never on the level of a top ten film. The only other documentary that made my top ten is Woodstock. This was just the movie I needed that year (for a lot of reasons), and absent of something I truly felt was either the best or my favorite, this felt like a good choice.
It’s a documentary about Mr. Rogers, and the wonder that was the man. It’s just a beautiful film. I saw this at a 10am screening on a Sunday morning. The theater was about 55-60% full (which is incredible in and of itself), and every single person walked out of the theater with tears in their eyes. This is just a beautiful film that really shows you that sometimes people really can be as good as they seem. It makes me smile just thinking about it.
6. A Star Is Born
♫ “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now” ♫
I’ve got a long history with this story. I love the Star Is Born story. They’ve made it four times now, five if you include What Price, Hollywood?, which is basically the same story if under a different title. What Price, Hollywood is in my tier two for its year, the Janet Gaynor/Fredric March version is in my top ten for its year, the Judy Garland/James Mason version is in my top ten for its year and the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version is in my tier two for its year. Every time they’ve turned this story into a film, it’s been in my top 40 (more like top 30) movies of that year.
So of course, when I heard that Bradley Cooper was going to be directing a new version and starring in it, I thought, “Oh, that’s actually kind of a safe choice for a debut. It’s hard to screw it up.” But I also didn’t necessarily need a new version because it’s also something that’s easy to disappoint for someone like me. I knew Clint Eastwood was gonna direct it a few years ago with Beyoncé starring, and eventually it came around to Cooper who put Lady Gaga in it. Which I was mixed-to-optimistic on. I just had no sense that it would be anything other than solid, despite my love of the story and mostly owing to my general cynicism about remakes and such nowadays.
But man, the minute even a trailer for this version came out, you knew it would be good. And at this point… this might end up being my favorite version of the story. Favorite musical version, anyway. I’ll always love the Gaynor/March version, but that’s the one without any music at the center of its story. Of the music versions, I think this one is the best, all due respect to Judy.
The crazy thing about this movie is that every single song in it is good. Even the songs that are designed to be ‘bad’. There is not a wasted/throwaway song in the entire film. Every single one of them is an amazing piece of writing that also perfectly fits the film. And Cooper is just amazing both in front of and behind the camera. His performance is really quite something. Though of course in this film, the male lead always takes second billing to the female lead. And honestly, Lady Gaga is tremendous here. The singing was always gonna be good, but Cooper shoots her in such a way that it makes the most out of her abilities and inexperience by letting her be natural on screen rather than force a performance out of her that she’s not capable of giving. It’s a really effective way to do it that manages to get the most out of the character.
And again, the music. Go back and listen to the soundtrack for this. Every song is great. That’s the key to this one. Everything else is also fantastic and this is a movie that I’m sure will slowly creep up the spots on this list over time, but the music is the most stunning thing about it, because in this day and age it’s hard enough to get one great original song in a movie, let alone (and I’m not making this number up), 17!
7. The Favourite
“As it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”
I originally left this one off the top ten, making it #11 (or 12, but really 11 in terms of what would make the top ten), but pretty quickly I realized it had to go into the list. I’ve watched this movie a bunch since then and it just amuses me more and more each time I see it.
This movie is such a joy to watch, because it’s the story of what would normally be a boring costume drama told with high tension and people giving mean looks and fussily backstabbing one another but turns it into this insane comedy that only Yorgos Lanthimos could make. It’s just brilliant.
It’s the story of Queen Anne, and her relationship to two women, her close friend since childhood, Sarah Churchill, and Abigail Hill. Olivia Colman plays Anne, Rachel Weisz is Sarah and Emma Stone is Abigail. And all three are sublime in this movie. Colman won an Oscar for her performance and Weisz and Stone were both nominated. They’re all so great, and the writing, directing, costumes, production design — it’s all spot on. And, I’ll reiterate, it’s really funny. You get the tone of the film immediately and it just works all the way through.
This movie is, in a lot of ways, a perfect entity. And the fact that it keeps me from having to watch another boring ass costume drama makes me like it even more.
“With the right white man, we can do anything.”
Spike Lee, baby. I love him, and I’m so happy whenever he ends up in the top ten.
As much as I love him as a filmmaker, he’d been largely hit and miss for me since the decade began, with some incredible highs (25th Hour, Inside Man) and some other stuff that I just didn’t care for as much. But his movies were and are always interesting. And he’d been trending upward with Chi-Raq, which I quite liked a lot even though most people didn’t bother to see it. And this premise is one of the great premises out there (which also really happened, to make it even better). And just seeing a trailer for this movie, you knew it would be good.
It’s just a wildly entertaining movie about a black police officer who infiltrates the KKK by using a white officer to pretend to be him for actual meetings. John David Washington plays the officer and Adam Driver plays his fellow officer who pretends to be him in person. And it’s just fun as hell. Spike directs the hell out of this movie and it’s just so funny. There are so many fun moments in this even if, as must be said, it’s not a comedy. It’s funny, but it’s not a comedy. The very ending of this movie will tell you that it’s not a comedy. The theater I was in was having such a blast, and then Spike pulled the rug out from all of us with that ending and then everyone was silent. Because he reminds you what’s really at stake with all of this and the reality of the situation when people like this are allowed to go unchecked.
This movie will go down as one of Spike’s greatest achievements. With him, it’s Do the Right Thing, Malcom X, BlacKkKlansman. Those are the big three. I’d put 25th Hour on that list as well in terms of what it means for New York and how great an achievement it is for him as a filmmaker. I think those are the films that define his career. There are other great ones (Jungle Fever, He Got Game, etc) and you can add a bunch more. But if you’re really boiling it down to the truly important ones that define a filmmaker’s legacy… this is one of those for Spike.
9. Bohemian Rhapsody
“It goes on forever, six bloody minutes!”
“I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever.”
I thought I might look back on this as a top ten choice and feel bad for having done it. But no, I only feel strengthened in it the more time has gone on. It’s the watchability factor. I saw this movie in theaters in October and then watched it about five more times with various friends and family members before the end of the year. It’s just fun as hell and is full of Queen music, all of which is great.
It’s just a really likable, well-put-together movie. Is it a masterpiece? No. You can tell this is a movie that was made in its editing and nowhere else. There’s a scene in this movie (where they meet the manager) where it’s straight up two separate scenes they pieced together into one. And yet, it works. The montages are great, and you just can put it on and enjoy the ride. That’s a good movie.
Also, it must be said — that Live Aid sequence is incredible. The actual performance is amazing in itself, but in terms of cinematic recreation, you really feel like you’re there, which is not an easy feat to pull off for something so memorable. It’s scenes like that one that will keep me watching this movie over time and keep it on this list.
Adam McKay, man. He gave us something new with The Big Short and does it again with this, a movie about Dick Cheney and the echoes his political career has had on the country and its future.
It’s easy to dismiss this as a ‘lesser’ Big Short and for some of the fun narrative tricks it has (like the false ending and the fact that they break into Shakespeare during one scene), but the content of the film is really important. This is as angry a movie as The Big Short is, even if the effects of its narrative are more subtle and the damage is deeper and more long-lasting.
Also, Christian Bale is Dick Cheney. If the film didn’t have such a tricky tone, he would have won an Oscar for this performance (and still should have). At a certain point, you forget you’re even watching Bale and are just watching Cheney on screen. It’s insane.
This is also a very funny movie. While its content is important (and disturbing), the movie is really funny and the writing is very good. I’ll admit it’s slightly more uneven than The Big Short is, but that movie has an insane hit-to-miss ratio that could almost never be replicated. But there are so many hilarious moments in this movie, which goes back to writing. Adam McKay is an incredible writer, if only because in both The Big Short and this, he’s able to take complex political ideas that would make most people fall asleep and convey them in a way that makes you realize their severity while also entertaining the hell out of you.
And also, again, look at that picture up there and tell me that’s not Dick Cheney.
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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs — A Coen brothers movie that was originally supposed to be a six part miniseries for Netflix, and then while shooting it they just decided to edit it into a feature. It’s basically like — to use literature comparisons — a series of short stories instead of a new novel. It feels like their B material they’ve culled over the years rather than something wholly new. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad, it’s just different. It’s six stories, which can be seen as a mixed bag, even though all the stories are very solid. The first is the titular one, with Tim Blake Nelson as a singing cowboy. That one’s quite good, though that’s the last one that’s overtly funny. It gets very serious as it moves along. The second story is James Franco and a bank robbery gone wrong. The third is Liam Neeson as the caretaker of an actor with no arms and legs who earns money off the man’s performances. The fourth is Tom Waits as an old prospector who strikes gold. The fifth is Zoe Kazan as a woman on a wagon train out west and her awkward romance with one of its drivers. And the sixth is about a group of people on a stagecoach traveling to an unknown destination. It’s got some really good stuff in it. All the segments are good. The Waits, Kazan and Nelson segments are particularly enjoyable. It feels like an album of B sides, though. It’s the Coens putting out all their unreleased material, and that is just fine by me.
Blindspotting — This is, to me, one of the single most underrated films of 2018. People ran out to nominate Black Panther for all sorts of social and political reasons and in doing so, they overlooked actual better films that achieved the same goals, like this film (and If Beale Street Could Talk). It’s co-written by its stars, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal (Diggs most people would know as playing Jefferson in Hamilton). And the tagline for it originally was ‘a buddy comedy in a world that doesn’t want it to be one’. Diggs stars as an ex-felon (we slowly find out why he went to prison over the course of the film) who is just trying to get on with his life and stay out of trouble. His parole is almost up and pretty soon he’s free of all that. Casal plays his best friend, who is just a crazy ass guy who is that one friend we all have who is going to get us arrested one day. It’s a great play on these types of characters, as usually the white one is portrayed as the responsible one who wants to follow the law and the black one is portrayed as the volatile one that does crazy shit. And the film is about their relationship while also dealing with race and racial politics and police brutality, as the big struggle within the film is with Diggs, driving back home one night, witnessing a white officer shoot an unarmed black man in the street. It’s a tremendous film that I am imploring you to watch if you haven’t seen it. Most of the time I’m suggestive about what to watch and I will speak very strongly when I feel like you should see something. This is a film that I am telling you that you need to watch because this is one of those films that feels educational for all people to better understand a lot of different aspects of current day society. It’s, in its way, a masterpiece.
First Man — Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong, centered (obviously) around the events that led to him being the first person who stepped foot on the Moon. After Whiplash and La La Land, it was weird to see this one come and go with very little fanfare. Almost no one bothered to see this, and if they did, no one really had any strong opinion about it, one way or the other. Which was shocking to me, because this was immediately one of the best films I saw this entire year. Chazelle directs the absolute hell out of it, with some incredible sound design, cinematography and editing, as well as the choice to focus on Gosling’s performance for a lot of the scene. He shoots many scenes close up on Gosling’s eyes, which is an interesting choice as Armstrong was a very guarded man, who never said much publicly about what he was feeling at any given moment. So focusing on Gosling’s eyes allows Gosling to convey everything we need to know with looks and subtle movement that speaks volumes about the man while also grounding us in these big moments of, you know… BEING ON THE MOON. The other thing he does that I think is really underrated as a choice… this is the only space movie I can think of that really shows you the kind of balls it takes to actually go into space. All of the crafts are rickety and feel like they’re going to come apart at any second. Everything is so loud that you can’t even hear yourself think. This one feels like the closest approximation of what it would be like if you were actually in space, which is the greatest compliment I can give it. And on top of that, it’s a really solid and effective drama that also gives Gosling the chance to deliver one of, if not the finest performance of his career. I’m a very big fan of this movie.
The Front Runner — Jason Reitman’s film about Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign (and subsequent scandal). I feel like most young people today don’t know anything about Hart, but he was a politician who most people said was going to be president and then got caught having an affair with a woman while in Miami on a yacht called “Monkey Business,” which is one of those stranger than fiction kind of coincidences. It’s an incredible story, because it completely derailed this man’s political career and is the first of the ‘media scandals’ that have become the norm in today’s 24 hour news cycle. Reitman captures something truly brilliant with this film because he’s telling a very specific story while also clearly making direct connections to today’s political and media culture while also touching on ‘Me Too’ and all sorts of other things. It’s a spectacular effort that was just hugely ignored in a terrible way. It also features an amazing central performance by Hugh Jackman that should probably have been nominated for an Oscar and some incredible writing. And Reitman does some fantastic directing and editing in this film, which features a very Robert Altman-esque opening shot and the brilliant use of staging that sort of allows you to focus on whatever aspects of the scene (and story) that you want to. I feel like over time, this will be considered one of the best single efforts of the decade. You want to get on this train now, because it’s one of the single best films of 2018.
Never Goin’ Back — This is, perhaps the one hidden gem from 2018 I am most excited about showing to people. It’s Augustine Frizzell’s directorial debut, and it’s a wonderful piece of work. It’s about two high school dropouts in Texas who are determined to go take a vacation at the beach (which they’ve never seen). And the film is a week in their life as they try to get there. And, like Inside Llewyn Davis, it’s one of those where you’re pretty sure this is how every week of their lives goes. And it’s just wonderful. Maia Mitchell and Camila Monroe star, and it’s just great. Go watch the trailer. That’s what got me to want to see it. It delivers. It really delivers. It’s one of the freshest debuts I’ve seen in a while. I’m a huge, huge fan of this one.
Ocean’s 8 — The all-female soft reboot of the franchise. Secretly I was hoping it was deliberate by them, to do 8, 9 and 10, link up to 11, 12 and 13 and then bring everyone together for 14, 15 and 16, but who knows if we’ll even get there. It’s directed by Gary Ross, who gave us Pleasantville, Seabiscuit and The Hunger Games, and it stars Sandra Bullock Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Awkwafina, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and Anne Hathaway, and involves Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie robbing a diamond necklace from the Met Gala. I enjoy the hell out of this movie. It’s got the same sense of fun as the originals (well… ‘originals’, since those are remakes themselves), smart writing, great performances, and it’s just totally rewatchable. I love it. People were mixed on it when it came out, but I always felt that was some weird gender stereotype thing (like how people say, “I’m fine with a woman being president, just not her” for every single woman running for president). I thought this movie was great and it only gets better for me each time I watch it.
Revenge — This is one of the best crowd-pleasers of 2018. I fucking love this movie. It’s a very simple rape-revenge movie, about the mistress of a rich man traveling to his desert house for a getaway. He’s also brought along two other men, one of whom ends up raping the woman while the boyfriend is out. She, of course, freaks out and wants to get the hell out of there. And he, not wanting any of this to blow up in his face, pushes her off a cliff and leaves her for dead. The only problem is… she survives. And, like The Revenant, she comes back for (insert title here). And it’s fucking awesome. Because you watch her claw to survive (like The Revenant) and by the time she comes back after them, you want to stand up and cheer every time she fucks up one of those guys. And let me tell you, the final sequence is so bloody that the characters are literally slipping and falling on the floor because of how much blood there is. It’s crazy. But trust me, this is one of the most entertaining experiences of the year and one of the single most underrated gems out there.
Springsteen on Broadway — The Broadway show (which I was extremely fortunate to be able to see in person, and is one of the greatest live experiences of my life) is one of the best one-man shows you will ever see. And the fact that they filmed it and put it out on Netflix allows everyone to experience the brilliance that is this show. It’s Bruce Springsteen, alone on a stage (though he is joined by his wife for two songs at one point), talking about his life and his music. It’s sort of a companion piece to the autobiography he wrote a few years ago, but it’s just a wonderful piece of work. He talks, he tells jokes, he gets deep about the things in his life that helped influence his music and plays a lot of his greatest songs. It’s incredible. Honestly all things considered this is my favorite viewing experience of the year. But it was more the live show and not this, so I keep it here because it’s just a filmed version of the show, and it feels weird putting it in the top ten. But trust me, if you are at all a Springsteen fan (and at this point, who isn’t?), this is one of the greatest things you’ll ever see. If we’re considering this a concert film (which I still haven’t decided on yet), this is immediately one of the greatest of all time. It’s that good.
Suspiria — I rushed to put this in my top ten when I first posted this list, mostly due to the fact that I have to scramble to make my list over the course of like, a week, and knowing this was probably the film from 2018 I was most excited for going into it, it made for an easy choice and one less thing I had to deliberate. Having some time away from it, 11-20 feels like the proper place for it, because while I do love this remake, it doesn’t have the same place in my heart that the original does. Luca Guadagnino follows up Call Me By Your Name with this, and while I was wondering how he’d find a way to retell the story, after seeing it, it makes total scene. It’s an all female film, with only two prominent male cast members (the one major male character is played by Tilda Swinton in makeup), and they’re cops who barely are a presence. This is a movie entirely comprised of women and also has some really deep themes going on, about loss and trauma. It dovetails with post-war Germany and gets into some really heavy shit by its end. It’s a really terrific film in a lot of ways. It’s not the original, but it’s really wonderful. (Tilda, also, by the way, plays three separate characters in this movie, including Imelda Markos, as if any of us are surprised by that.)
You Were Never Really Here — Holy shit. This movie. Lynne Ramsey directs (coming off We Need to Talk About Kevin) and it’s got a very simple story: Joaquin Phoenix is a vigilante who goes around tracking down girls who have gone missing (and beating the ever-loving shit out of the guys who took them). And that’s it. That’s all you need. But what’s so brilliant about this story is the way in which it’s told. Ramsey provides excellent visuals and eschews a lot of the boring tropes of a genre like this and gives you something you’ve never experienced before. And it’s wonderful. Even people who wouldn’t necessarily go for a film like this called it one of the best films of the year. Because it is. All around, this is an amazing piece of work.
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- Anna and the Apocalypse
- At Eternity’s Gate
- Creed II
- Eighth Grade
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
- I Kill Giants
- Isle of Dogs
- Leave No Trace
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout
- The Old Man and the Gun
- Ready Player One
- Sicario: Day of the Soldado
- The Sisters Brothers
- Sorry to Bother You
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- White Boy Rick
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the phenomenon animated film of this year, marking one of the very few times Disney/Pixar or Miayzaki didn’t win the Animated Feature award. It goes to remind you that no matter how many times they fuck it up, people are always here for Spider-Man. Because Spider-Man’s the best. This is a meta movie in which Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man after the death of Spider-Man in his universe, but then opens up a portal from which all different Spider-Men (and women. And… pigs) come through and help him learn to be Spider-Man and also defeat Kingpin. It’s a lot of fun. The visual style is amazing and it’s worth seeing the film for that alone. But it’s also fun seeing all the different Spider-Man intros for all the different ones that come out. It’s hard not to be hugely entertained by this movie. And, while we’re on the subject of animation — Isle of Dogs. Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion film. This one is about… well, look at the title. It’s set in Japan, where dog flu has left all dogs to be banished to ‘Trash Island’ and the journey of one boy to travel there to get his dog back. It’s fun. It’s a lesser Anderson film to me, but that just speaks to personal preference more than anything. A ‘lesser’ Wes Anderson movie is better than most other movies. I just prefer a lot of his other stuff to this, is all that means. He’s consistently one of the best filmmakers working, and at this point, his style is noticeable even in animation.
White Boy Rick is a I was hugely excited for going into this year that just got completely ignored. It’s directed by Yann Demange, his first film after ’71 (which is also great) and it’s based on the true story of a teenager who became an FBI informant after becoming a local drug kingpin in Detroit in the 80s. It’s such an awesome story. Richie Merritt makes his debut as the kid, Matthew McConaughey plays his father, Bel Powley plays his sister and Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie play the grandparents. McConaughey in particular is tremendous here. The film is really great. I don’t think enough people saw it for there to be a consensus opinion about it, but I feel like this is one of the better if not best films of this year and I don’t know why it got ignored as much as it was. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second in the Fantastic Beasts saga and the first to show the inherent flaws in the setup of the franchise. Because it’s really about Dumbledore and Grindelwald and making Scamander your main character, while it makes sense from an audience surrogate standpoint, eventually is gonna cease to have stuff to do. The film definitely skews darker, showing Grindelwald growing his base, much like Hitler during the same time period while pretending like his ways are not violent but rather for radical change. And then you’ve got Jude Law as young Dumbledore doing his own thing and sending Scamander in to monitor the whole situation. It’s entertaining, because as I always say, give me the Harry Potter universe (or Wizarding World, as they call it to distance that franchise from this one) over most other things. I’m sure over time my opinion on this one will decrease and it will drop out of the 11-20 in favor of something I end up rewatching a bunch more, but for now, I do really enjoy these movies.
Leave No Trace is Debra Granik’s first film since Winter’s Bone. And it’s great. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie star as a father and daughter who have lived off the grid in a national forest for years. Though one day, they get discovered and have to reintegrate into society. She has never really known society and he wants nothing more than to not be in it, and the film is about what happens to them now that they’re around people. Foster is, as usual, great, and McKenzie is the real revelation here. She is great here and delivers a stunning performance. This is one of the best acted films of the year and flat out one of the best films of the year. Sicario: Day of the Soldado is the sequel. I hate to say just that, only because a sequel to Sicario is a more complicated thing than just ‘sequel’. This one focuses more on Benicio del Toro’s character and on Josh Brolin’s character. It involves them going into Mexico to kidnap the daughter of a drug lord as leverage in their war. There’s more going on, of course, including a subplot with a kid getting involved with a Mexican gang. It’s really solid. I thought it would just be good, but not great, without Denis Villeneuve. But this is a very solid sequel and continues the story quite well. Eighth Grade is a film that most people know because it was a huge hit. It’s Bo Burnham’s directorial debut and is about what it’s like to be in middle school in the current day and age. It’s a really wonderful film. Elsie Fisher is fantastic and it’s just one of those movies that everyone came out liking. It’s impossible not to like. It’s really charming.
The Sisters Brothers is a movie that John C. Reilly had been trying to make for a decade before it finally got made. And it got made big. Jacques Audiard directing, Reilly starring with Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed. It’s a very anti-western western, which I imagine is why almost no one knows this movie even exists, or if they do, only vaguely know about it. Reilly and Phoenix play gunslinger brothers who carry out hits for their boss and are tasked with tracking down gold-prospecting chemist Riz Ahmed and killing him. Gyllenhaal plays a gentleman outlaw who liaises with the brothers who is sent ahead to monitor Ahmed and ends up befriending him and joining his scheme. It’s… it’s a weird one that’s difficult to explain. But it’s very good. A lot of great character stuff, fantastic performances. A real nice gem where you should trust the people involved to know that it’s good. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is the fifth one. Or sixth one. See, at this point they all blend together. It’s the sixth one. Rogue Nation was five and this is six. It’s a sort of continuation from the last one, since they bring back the villain from the last film to do it again. It’s a lot of fun. They keep finding ways to up the ante with each film and this one has the added benefit of having a shot where you can literally see Cruise break his ankle. This franchise is consistently great (not good – great), and the fact that all the films blur together speaks to the consistency throughout the franchise. It’s Cruise, it’s great action sequences, it’s a fun time at the movies. Every time. Mid90s is Jonah Hill’s directorial debut that is loosely based on his childhood growing up in LA in the 90s. It’s a beautiful film that feels like the right kind of personal (the cheap review of this movie would be to call it ‘Skatey Bird’). It’s a boy finding his friends, finding his crowd, his relationship with his overworked single mother and with his older brother. It’s wonderful. It really is.
Ready Player One is a movie that I was very concerned about going in. Because the book it’s based on is loaded with Spielberg references. So I was worried that Spielberg was gonna start self-referencing, which was just gonna be real bad. But fortunately he didn’t go there. And the film was so much better than I was expecting. The premise is that Mark Rylance was a video game nerd who grew up in the 80s and created a giant virtual reality game that is now the biggest thing in the world. Everyone goes into it, almost to the detriment of actual society. And after he dies, he leaves behind clues like a sort of Willy Wonka, designed to leave his empire to the person who solves them all first. And it’s a lot of fun. The stuff inside the game is visually stunning and really entertaining. My only quibble is the overload of 80s references, which kinda comes with the territory. But otherwise, I really enjoy the hell out of this movie. It’s very rewatchable. Creed II is the sequel. And the fact that they used roman numerals alone is impressive to me. I feel like, were this not upholding the Rocky legacy, it wouldn’t have, but I’ll take it nevertheless. This film delves more into the Creed character, getting into him getting married and having a child (just like Rocky II) while also having him face off against Ivan Drago’s son. Which, considering Drago killed Apollo in the ring, makes some sense. I was surprised that it wasn’t just a straightforward rematch kind of thing (or worse, a way of introducing the current political climate haphazardly) and that they actually got into what Drago has been doing all these years and how he’s raised his son, which makes the whole thing much more complex. Though after the first Creed, they definitely didn’t have much to do with Rocky. He’s just kind of along for the ride, even though they try to keep him relevant. Overall, it’s a lesser sequel to the first one, but still a solid film in its own right. Which is very respectable.
The Old Man and the Gun is a wonderful final chapter to the film career of Robert Redford. It’s such a wonderfully simple throwback of a film. He plays a bank robber (it’s based on a real guy) who escaped prison at 70 to go out and rob some more banks. And that’s the film. He’s going out and robbing banks with his team (Tom Waits, Danny Glover) and romancing Sissy Spacek, an older widow. All while Casey Affleck (a cop) is trying to track him down. It’s a wonderful film. David Lowery directs and it just feels like a movie that’s come out aged. It’s not interested in flashy action sequences, it’s just happy to sit with its characters like a warm cup of coffee. I love it. I Kill Giants is low key as good as A Monster Calls, while treading similar ground. It’s about a middle school outcast who escapes the reality of her day to day life by living in a fantasy world where she is the only person who can save the world from monsters. Of course the adults and other kids either think she’s crazy or weird, but that doesn’t deter her. And then of course, you slowly realize why she’s doing it, and the movie tows this wonderful line about whether or not the monsters are real. I really like this one a lot. It’s just a really sweet movie and feels like the kind of thing I’d have randomly found on TV when I was seven and loved and then by the time I was 20 realized that absolutely no one else knew what it was, let alone loved it as much as I do. I highly recommend this one. It’s great. At Eternity’s Gate is Julian Schnabel’s film about Vincent Van Gogh, starring Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh. And that should interest most people. Schnabel, if you don’t know, directed Basquiat, Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and he provides a really unique atmosphere for this one. It doesn’t feel like a narrative film so much as it feels like a series of vignettes of Van Gogh’s life. And it’s great. Dafoe is fantastic here (he was nominated for his performance) and it’s just a really solid, classy film.
Sorry to Bother You is the great social satire of 2018. It’s Boots Riley’s directorial debut and a real takedown of capitalism and materialism. It’s impossible to explain, and even if I tried, it couldn’t nearly approximate what happens in the second half of this movie. And that third act, with the… yeah. So it’s better if you just watch the trailer and get an idea of what you’re in for, and know that it’s one of the absolute best movies of 2018. Absolutely hilarious and brilliantly made. Tully is Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, their third film after Juno and Young Adult. A ‘maturity trilogy’, if you would. This one has Charlize Theron as an overstressed mother who is on her third child and is just miserable. Her brother says she should get a night nanny and sends her one as a gift. Enter Mackenzie Davis, the magical night nanny who Theron immediately bonds with who helps her get through all the shit she’s going through. It’s a really strong film. Theron is great and Mackenzie Davis once again proves she should be a mega star getting all the great roles. Cody and Reitman have, before this, made two really good films, so is it really surprising they went and made a third really good one together? Unsane is Steven Soderbergh. He shot this movie entirely on an iPhone in secret, and it’s wonderful. Like his other films, it was criminally underseen upon release and almost no one knew it even happened. It’s a Hitchcockian thriller with Claire Foy as a woman who involuntarily committed into an insane asylum and slowly begins to question her sanity. It’s really strong. You forget about it being shot on an iPhone after a while and just focus on the story. Foy is great and it’s a really engaging low budget thriller. Really great, and at this point you should know that Soderbergh never makes a bad movie and always makes a movie that’s better than you think it’s gonna be, even if you think it’s gonna be good.
Anna and the Apocalypse is the zombie musical you didn’t know you needed in your life. I was in from the phrase ‘zombie musical’ alone. It’s like Shaun of the Dead set to music. It’s about a girl in a dead end London town who dreams of getting out but also has to deal with an impending zombie apocalypse. So she and her friends become trapped in the high school with a psychotic principle and have to fight off hordes of zombies. It’s a lot of fun. Considering no one knows it exists, it’s a really charming film that ought to be seen. Mandy is the kind of Nicolas Cage movie that we all wish we got every time. He’s only got three speeds — “great actor Cage,” “boring, paycheck Cage” and “insane and unhinged Cage.” This, is the latter. And it’s fucking gloriously insane. Panos Cosmatos directs this kaleidoscopic odyssey that’s just nuts. It’s something that would be a really shitty thriller without him coming on board. It’s a couple living happily in the woods who come across a murderous biker cult, and then Cage has to take matters into his own hands by murdering a lot of people with hatchets and chainsaws. It’s fucking crazy. Watch the trailer if, for some reason, you don’t know anything about it. Or, just watch this, perhaps the finest two minutes of cinema in 2018:
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- American Animals
- Black Panther
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- The Christmas Chronicles
- Cold War
- First Match
- Game Night
- The Hate U Give
- The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl
- Okko’s Inn
- The Other Side of the Wind
- Private Life
- A Quiet Place
- Set It Up
- They Shall Not Grow Old
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
- What They Had
We’re gonna start with a trio of great animated films. First, The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, a wonderful film that I can explain very simply: it’s about a girl on an all night rager. That’s the film. She’s just going around town, drinking like crazy at various bars, and the film is about her epic night. Of course, lots of different things happen along the way, but essentially it’s about a girl on a bar crawl. And that’s what I love about it. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but I hear that setup and that sounds like one of the greatest things I could possibly watch. And the film is really awesome with a really sweet underbelly to it. Mirai, meanwhile, is a more known entity, as it was nominated for Best Animated Feature (the first non-Ghibli film from Asia to accomplish that feat). It’s about a four-year-old boy who becomes jealous of his newborn sister and all the attention she’s taking away from him. So he starts to act out. And then one day, after angrily storming off into the family’s garden, discovers that the garden is magical. He meets a human version of the family dog (and even transforms into the family dog for a bit), then meets his sister as a teenager, and even meets a younger version of his mother. All of this serving to help him understand the realities of having another sibling and learn that other people have lives and feelings as well. It’s a truly beautiful film. And then finally, Okko’s Inn, the one film that I’m sure almost no one knows about, but possibly the best on this list. It’s about a girl whose parents died in a car accident, so she goes to live with her grandmother and learns how to run her grandmother’s inn so she can one day take it over. While there, she begins to interact with the ghosts who live there (as well as some of the guests), and through all this, begins to deal with the grief that she’s been carrying with her ever since the accident. It’s a really wonderful film. I love when animated films can incorporate heavy subjects into the narrative without being overburdened by them, and this is definitely one that does it very successfully. It’s a beautiful film.
American Animals is a great and underrated docudrama type film, based on a true life robbery that happened. The film moves seamlessly between fact and fiction – or rather, fact and recreation – and gives one of the more unique cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. It begins with the real guys talking about the heist, like a documentary (and, in the I Tonya way, wildly contradicting each others’ stories at times), and then we go into the film, which involves actors playing these people and watching as they organize and execute the heist. The heist itself involves a rare book at a library, and the guys intend to go in, steal the book and take it to Europe, where a fence will sell it for millions of dollars. It’s nuts. But it’s really well acted and well-shot. Heist movies are always interesting and it’s the way they tell this one that makes is so fascinating. At certain points throughout the film, the real guys show up on screen, almost as a subtle warning to the characters about what’s going to happen, and it’s really very effective. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. I know it’s only in tier three, but it’s so much better than that (and speaks to how much great stuff is in the upper tiers of this year). Give this one a shot. You won’t regret it. Private Life is a Tamara Jenkins film. And to this point, she’s only made three of those, and they’re all worthwhile. She draws heavily on her own life for her films, the last one being The Savages and about her and her brother dealing with their dying father and the complicated feelings they have about him and their relationship to him. This one stars Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a couple desperate to have a child who are undergoing multiple fertility treatments to try to conceive and the difficulties that poses on their marriage. It’s really strong. Giamatti is always great and Hahn is really spectacular here. She’s mostly known for comedy but gives the strongest dramatic performance of her career. Also, Kayli Carter is fantastic as their niece who moves in with them (and may potentially be a surrogate if they wanna go that route). It’s a strong, adult drama that is a dwindling genre in today’s age. I’m a big fan of this one.
The Christmas Chronicles is Kurt Russell’s Netflix Christmas movie. And trust me when I say, you need this in your life. It’s such a hugely entertaining movie. Case and point: it features not only a car chase with police, but also a musical number set in prison. The plot is that two kids are spending their first Christmas without their father and the girl sneaks downstairs to catch Santa (Kurt Russell). And then they end up on this adventure as they accompany him around places and get into all sorts of adventures. It’s so much fun. And it’s also insane, which makes it even better. This one is not to be missed, trust me. Here’s a completely out of context screenshot that should tell you what kind of content you can expect from this movie:
The Hate U Give is a wonderful movie. A truly wonderful movie. It’s based on a YA novel, which gave me pause when I first heard about it. But then I realized as I was watching it how genius that was. Because it’s not a YA type story. It starts as a YA story — the girl in high school narrating her experiences. “This is what it’s like to be a black girl in a predominantly white, upper class school,” and code switching and all of that. And who’s got a crush on who, identity and all of that. But then, at the end of the first act, she watches a cop MURDER her friend at a traffic stop. And the rest of the film is about police brutality, and taking a stand, and the inherent racial divide within the country. There are serious topics at play in this movie, and I was very impressed by how mature it was. In a way, the YA device is to draw in all the kids who are expecting The Fault in Our Stars and then sit them down and go, “Hey, this is some important shit you need to know about.” It’s a really smart way to educate the kids about the important social issues of our time. And there are some amazing scenes in this movie. It starts with the father (played brilliantly by Russell Hornsby, who in my mind should have been nominated for an Oscar for what he did here) teaching his very young children about what to do if they’re ever stopped by police so they don’t get killed. And there’s a scene later at a diner between him and police that’s also just incredible (and the subsequent scene as the family returns home). I really liked this movie a lot and I think it’s one of the more impressive films to come out this year. In terms of pure respect, this is a top five movie for me for 2018. Cold War is Pawel Pawlikowski’s followup to Ida, his Foreign Language Oscar-winning film (which is great). He continues the same visual style (which again earned a Cinematography nomination and upped it with a Best Director nomination). The film is a love story between a musician and a singer in communist Poland. It’s just stunning to look at. I prefer Ida’s story to this one, but both films are just beautiful and amazing pieces of filmmaking. It’s one of the most gorgeous-looking films from this year.
Set It Up is the film that, to me, helped Netflix singlehandedly revive the rom com genre, which had been dead for about ten-to-fifteen years by the time this came out. It’s got a wonderful setup — two assistants to difficult high-powered bosses devise a plan to get their bosses to start dating so they’ll have more free time for themselves. Of course, in planning and executing all this, they… well, you know how it goes. Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell star (with amazing chemistry, by the way) and Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs play the bosses. It’s absolutely charming as all hell and truly worth its place in the pantheon of great rom coms. Continuing with Netflix rom coms that helped revive the genre, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. This is based on a YA novel and stars Lana Condor (who is so damn likable here) as a high school girl who has, throughout her life, secretly written (but never sent) love letters to the boys she’s had crushes on. Only mysteriously, one day, the letters end up getting mailed, which throws her life into a tailspin. And now she must confront all the feelings she’s hidden inside all her life. And it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s so well-written and so much fun. And now, continuing with the theme of charming rom coms — Hereditary. This is Ari Aster’s directorial debut and he took the world by storm with this one. Because it’s one of the most fucked up movies you’ll see. It’s about the crazy shit that happens to a family in the wake of a tragedy and has all the great things one would expect — beheadings, people getting set on fire, Toni Collette acting at about a 14 on a 10 scale… it’s awesome. Hugely overrated by audiences at the time of release, but it’s still a really engaging movie (whose only real issues are with its final ten minutes when it kind of peters out and doesn’t go nearly as interesting as it could have based on the set up) with some fantastic direction and great performances. There are some amazing sequences in this movie and also… something people refuse to acknowledge but I think are starting to come around on in the wake of Midsommar, Hereditary is a comedy. Watch it again, people. It’s really funny, if in a very, very dark way. It’s impossible not to set up some of the moments Aster sets up and not have them be inherently seen as funny. It’s one of the more underrated comedies of the decade, frankly.
The Other Side of the Wind is Orson Welles’ final film. Best watched in tandem with the documentary about its long gestation (They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead), because it details Welles’ career and constant fights with the studios and his desire to make films his way, which often involved a filmmaking style that was way different at the time from what studios were used to. So naturally they always took his films away and recut them. And most of the time they failed financially, so they wrote him off and dismissed him. And then of course, over time, Welles’ versions of the films became looked at as masterpieces. It’s a vicious cycle of hard luck for an iconoclast filmmaker. This film was the film he has shooting all throughout the 70s. That’s why the documentary is so important to seeing the film. He would shoot it for a week or two here and there when he could get everyone together or had enough money to film more. And what he was doing with it was so far advanced for what the prevailing style was for that era that it just never was able to be finished. Some thought he never intended for it to be finished, a final joke of sorts from Welles to sort of say, “Well, they never understood me and the films always got better receptions later on, so maybe if I never finish it, they’ll just assume it was a masterpiece.” They bring it up during the documentary and no one really comes to a conclusion about whether or not that was actually the case. Still, they got the money from Netflix to reedit it after various legal battles and trying to finish it for years and years, and now, we finally have the finished product. The film is very different from what you’d expect, even from Welles. It’s two films in one. Half is part docu-drama (shot almost found footage-like), centered around a famous film director, played by John Huston (and clearly modeled on Welles himself, as much as he strenuously denied it), on his birthday/last day of his life, surrounded by friends and critics and the like as they get together to celebrate and screen his latest film. And the other half of the film is the film itself, which is very surrealist and features no dialogue or definitive plot. It’s a very interesting film that is clearly Welles thinking forward about what would come next. What the next frontier was for filmmaking. And while it may not be for everyone, it’s a film that should be seen by anyone who is very interested in film, film history, and seeing the work of one of the best filmmakers to ever pick up a camera.
They Shall Not Grow Old is Peter Jackson’s documentary about World War I. Which already made me go way in. I love me some World War I. But what he does that’s stunning is that he (by necessity) takes all existing footage and interviews (since it was 100 years ago and everyone who fought in the war is dead) and remasters a lot of the footage and does some really interesting things with it. You watch this movie and you almost forget that there’s no way it could look as good as it does. Some of it’s in color. And you realize, “Oh, wait, that’s not right.” But it looks stunning, and it’s one of the most fascinating documentaries you will see. Highly recommended. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a Marielle Heller film (her first film was the underrated Diary of a Teenage Girl and she also made A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) based on the true story of writer Lee Israel, whose book sales are dwindling and, desperate for money, she happens upon forgery. She types up old letters supposedly written by famous literary figures and sells them to brokers for thousands of dollars. And it’s one of those movies of a person in a bad situation turning to less-than-moral means and then struggling with success and guilt and things eventually going wrong. It’s a strong film. Melissa McCarthy delivers a fantastic lead performance and Richard E. Grant basically steals the movie out from under her as her homeless, gay alcoholic friend who helps her in her schemes. Both were nominated for their performances and it’s just a really solid drama. Black Panther, like the better Marvel films, it exists within its own little corner and doesn’t try to force the rest of the universe into it. Which is something they’ve learned to do more of as the universe became more established. It takes place entirely in Wakanda (sure, some of it takes place in Oakland, but in flashback, and some in Korea, but none of it has anything to do with the larger scale universe), and it focuses on the characters within the film and with the story it wants to tell. And on that, it’s one of the more successful films the studio has put out. I don’t go as far as other people by proclaiming it a masterpiece and one of the greatest films ever and the most important movie ever made, but it’s good. It’s entertaining, and I find myself liking it more because it stays specific to its own story and world without trying to do too much.
Damsel is a great revisionist western by the Zellner brothers, who made Kumiko the Treasure Hunter. It stars Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska. Pattinson has the first half of the film to himself and then Wasikowska stars in the second half. Pattinson plays a very uptight city man who travels out west to marry his love, Wasikowska. And it’s just this weird journey with some crazy characters and bizarre twists. It’s great because you wonder what the hell is going on for part of it and then realize what they’re doing… it’s not a straightforward western and it’s turning all the tropes on their heads. The title in itself is a play on what you’d expect. I really like this one a lot as both a film and a statement. If you’ve seen Kumiko, you’ll have a better sense of the kind of tone the Zellner’s use and go for, and knowing western tropes (which most people inherently do, even without having seen a lot of westerns) also helps. Because this is a very progressive take on a classic story, while also giving you some fun weird shit along the way as well. A Quiet Place is John Krasinski’s directorial debut and it’s an atmospheric horror-drama about a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by alien creatures that attack on sound. So the family has to live completely silently, no talking, no noise-making, communicating by sign language. But, naturally, as is always the case with people during an apocalypse… they’ve procreated. So now they’re about to have a child, which won’t really know how to keep quiet for a while and poses a huge risk for them. It’s a really well-made film. The reaction to it I think was a bit too strong for the respective quality of the film, but I think it’s a well-made film that is hard not to be impressed with. I generally am disinterested by movies like this but did find myself solidly engaged by this one. First Match is a wonderfully underrated Netflix Original drama about a high school girl who’s been through the foster system for years and is just angry. Her mother is dead, her father is constantly in and out of prison, and she keeps getting kicked out of foster homes because she’s constantly misbehaving or stealing or sabotaging herself. And the film is about her finally finding an outlet for her feelings – by joining the boy’s wrestling team. And it’s just a wonderful film. One of the best Netflix films out there.
Game Night is a really fun comedy that surprised the hell out of me. Mostly because studio comedy nowadays is a cesspool of garbage, and at best a good one is only moderately entertaining and we all pretend it’s great because it’s like finding one arm floatie while you’re in the middle of the ocean. But this one is legitimately fun. It’s based around the premise of a group of people getting together for a (insert title here), centered around a murder mystery game. You know, they hire a company, they give you clues around a fictional murder, and everyone goes around trying to solve it. Only, the host actually gets kidnapped by some bad people and is in real danger, but all the people playing just assume it’s part of the game and don’t take it seriously. Which is just a great setup for a comedy and really works well. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play the main couple. She, in particular, is tremendous here. And also fantastic is Jesse Plemons as the weird next door neighbor who they never want to invite to their games because of how weird he is. It’s a very fun movie. Not perfect, but considering where studio comedies are, the level of hits to misses in this movie is very impressive. What They Had is a wonderful indie family drama with an incredible cast. It’s based on the writer-director’s own family and her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. Blythe Danner stars as the mother, while Robert Forster plays her loving husband, who is getting too old to care for her but refuses to put her in a home. Michael Shannon plays their son, who has been living nearby all his life so he can look after them and is somewhat bitter about it, while Hilary Swank plays their daughter, who lives out in LA but returns after Danner disappears one night, wandering out in the snow. It’s a great four-hander of a film with a terrific performance by Robert Forster, who I said at the time deserved an Oscar nomination for what he did in this. It’s a really strong film that is one of the hidden gems of this year.
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- Ant-Man and the Wasp
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Bird Box
- Deadpool 2
- Dragged Across Concrete
- A Futile and Stupid Gesture
- The Great Buster
- Hearts Beat Loud
- Madeline’s Madeline
- Outlaw King
- The Polka King
- Small Town Crime
- Solo: A Star Wars Story
- We the Animals
Let’s start by getting Marvel out of the way. First, Ant-Man and the Wasp… which is a franchise built on doing its own thing and not being related to the others. The entire film takes place over about four days and doesn’t have anything to do with the other Marvel films outside of the fact that Lang is on house arrest and until the mid-credits sequence. It’s its own thing. And it’s fun. Small stakes, light tone, it’s a good juxtaposition to some of the more over-serious and overblown (action-wise) films in the universe. And Rudd is just hugely entertaining. I like these Ant-Man movies. And then there’s Infinity War, which was what the entire universe was building toward. That and Endgame. And it’s flashy. It’s explosive. A lot of people die. But it’s also overlong and has segments that are just totally unnecessary. That said, it helps Endgame land as well as it does, so it’s hard to speak that negatively of it. I said at the time that what it does in its third act only counts if they stick the landing. And they stuck it. So I’ve gotta be fine with this movie. It’s half of the finale of the culmination of 20 other movies. Mostly you’re just amazed they pulled the whole thing off.
Maiden is an incredible documentary about the first all-female crew in an annual around-the-world yacht race in 1989. The story is just begging to be a feature film one day, and the story is structured as such. We meet the captain/main character, learn about her childhood and how she ended up sailing on boats and deciding to captain her own boat. We see how she assembled her crew, dealt with all the inherent sexism that comes from doing something like this, and how the team ends up overcoming all the odds and doing so much better than anyone gave them credit for. It’s such an inspiring story of a woman who feels she doesn’t fit in society, finds something she truly loves and then decides, “Why can’t I do it?” So she does. Even when everyone else tells her she can’t. It’s really empowering and is the kind of story all young women should be shown. Honestly, I do hope it gets… maiden to a film (I have no regrets) a film one day to give this story the kind of reach it deserves. Deadpool 2 is the sequel. Not as fresh as the first one (by definition, since it’s not the first one) and not as funny or entertaining, but still funny and entertaining in its own way. It’s weird because it feels like it’s trying to tell more of a serious story, while the first one was just an anarchic good time and felt like everyone was amazed they even got the money to make it. This one felt like a deeper exploration into the character while also trying to go ‘legit’, when the key of the character is to take the piss out of all the movies that are ‘legit’. Honestly, while parts of this movie are funny, the best it ever gets is during the end credits sequence. That’s the Deadpool I want. But, as far as sequels go, I was entertained.
Dragged Across Concrete is S. Craig Zahler’s third film, after Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. I love both those films dearly. This one stars Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson as two cops who get suspended for excessive use of force caught on camera. And, Gibson especially, needing the money, decides to take matters into his own hands by following a lead on a criminal, intending to rob him. So the film follows them, and the criminal, and other criminals — it’s this sprawling crime story that takes its time to follow all these different threads. Jennifer Carpenter, who is in Cell Block 99 as Vaughn’s wife, shows up here 90 minutes into the film, and has this whole 15-20 minute segment just on her character. That’s the kind of movie this is. It’s very indulgent, narratively. I liked it, but I do think people who aren’t familiar with Zahler are better served with his first two films as a starting point before venturing to this one. It’s definitely an interesting film though and I like that it’s deliberately doing its own thing and not trying to be commercial in any way. Outlaw King is David Mackenzie’s movie about Robert the Bruce. It acts as a sort of cousin-piece to Braveheart. It takes place around the same time, William Wallace is mentioned in the early parts of the film. It’s right there, historically. And it’s about Robert the Bruce’s attempts to beat the stronger and better-equipped British army in the fight for Scottish Independence. Chris Pine plays Robert, and I had my doubts about that, given the propensity for dodgy accents in these types of movies, but he acquits himself well. Florence Pugh plays his wife and, though underwritten, delivers a fine performance given what she has to work with. My personal favorite, though, is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is just entertaining as all hell here as James Douglas. It’s no Braveheart, but it’s really well-directed and features some awesome battle scenes.
Madeline’s Madeline features the single best female performance of 2018. (I only qualify gender there just because I don’t think I’ll ever get over Christian Bale as Cheney.) Helena Howard gives a performance that gave me chills while watching, and it’s her screen debut. The film is a bit up and down, but her performance is truly something special. She plays a young actor with varying degrees of mental illness and mommy issues who joins a small theater company’s newest production and soon gets way too deep into her role. It’s just… tremendous. Feel however you want about the movie — it gets weird (and that ending is one of those where, either you’re gonna go all in on it or just hate it), but you’re never gonna convince me that this isn’t one of the best two or three performances of this entire year. We the Animals is a wonderful little indie that feels like childhood. The way it’s shot, the way the sound drops out during scenes, the way it abruptly cuts from memory to memory… it feels like how you’d remember incidents from childhood. And I love it because of that. It’s the story of three brothers growing up and the story of their parents. And it’s quite wonderful. Solo: A Star Wars Story is the Han Solo prequel movie. And, all things considered, the fact that it’s as fun and watchable as it is given the giant production problems they had with it is a marvel. They fired the directors halfway through filming. And they brought on Ron Howard and reshot basically the entire movie. Which is nuts. And the movie, you wouldn’t know it really by watching. It’s not great, but none of the new Star Wars movies have been great. It’s fun, and gives you enough to be moderately entertained. I think the key to enjoying these is to have the cognitive dissonance of not truly associating them with the earlier movies. Treat it as its own thing, and it’s fine.
The Great Buster is a documentary by Peter Bogdanovich about Buster Keaton and the impact he’s had on comedy and filmmaking for a century. It’s a great piece of work that shines a light on one of the great underappreciated filmmakers of all time. Hal, meanwhile, is a documentary about Hal Ashby, one of the most underrated directors in all of cinema. He had a decade’s run of movies in the 70s that is almost unmatched. Those films are: The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home and Being There. Not bad, right? And the film uses his actual correspondence to help detail that run of films while also talking about his maverick attitude and constant quarreling with studio executives and determination to do things his way. It’s a great portrait of a great filmmaker. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a biopic of Mad Magazine and all the misfits and weirdos who helped make it what it became. It’s directed by David Wain and has this really offbeat storytelling method that just kind of works for the story its trying to tell. It’s very all over the map and captures the crazy attitude that made that magazine work. It’s a really solid biopic and fits the mold of the Netflix movie really well. Thoroughbreds is a great movie with Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy, two actresses who should hopefully become the next big superstars within a few years. They play girls in Connecticut who come from rich families who plot to murder one of their fathers. Cooke plays a sociopath and Taylor-Joy plays her friend who nevertheless decides to go along with her plan. It’s a really interesting movie with great lead performances and a great debut by Cory Finley.
The Polka King is a Netflix biopic directed by Maya Forbes (who did the hugely underrated Infinitely Polar Bear with Mark Ruffalo) about Jan Lewan, a Pennsylvania polka singer who ended up starting a Ponzi scheme. As one does. It’s such a crazy, offbeat (and true!) story, and Black is absolutely wonderful. For all the big comic roles he’s had (like Tropic Thunder and Jumanji), he’s peppered this decade with some really fantastic little indie performances (Bernie, The D Train) and this is another one of those. It’s a funny movie, but it’s also got a lot of dramatic weight to it as well. It’s one of those weird tonal films that can only get made nowadays on a platform like Netflix, and I really think it’s worth seeing. Black is tremendous and it’s just such a funny and fascinating movie. Because this shit happened! Bumblebee is Transformers. They got rid of Bay and went back to basics. The first Transformers is about ‘a boy and his car’ and this is about a girl and her car. It’s set in the 80s and has Bumbebee arriving to Earth after a fight on Cybertron, hiding out from the Decepticons in an old junkyard, where he’s bought by Hailee Steinfeld, a teen grieving after the loss of her father who is just trying to get through high school and dreams of having her own car. And it becomes this really nice movie with two people who find each other at the right time in their lives and help one another. It’s really sweet and is truly the best Transformers movie since the first one, as low a bar as that is. Travis Knight, coming off Kubo and the Two Strings, directs, and it’s truly a very surprisingly good film, which is exactly what we were all saying about the first Transformers movie.
Small Town Crime is a great little John Hawkes crime indie, which he seems to be making a lot of. Too Late is a great little neo-noir detective movie and this is a great little P.I. mystery movie. Here, he plays an alcoholic former cop who finds a dead woman at the side of the road and goes to her rich grandfather and offers to find her killer. It’s really awesome. The cast is great and it’s just a nice little B movie. Bird Box is one of the more well known Netflix films. A Sandra Bullock thriller about an apocalypse where some form of aliens come down that corrupt people’s visions and cause them to commit suicide. And the film is about people trying to survive while not being able to open their eyes in public. So most of them are locked in a house for the majority of the film, and then we intercut with scenes of Bullock traveling with two small children, having to be blindfolded while traveling. It’s an effective movie. Kinda dumb, but engaging. It feels like a movie you’d want to throw on when you open up Netflix and be entertained by. And for what it is and what it wants to be, it’s wholly successful. Searching is the best film to take advantage of the ‘shot entirely within a computer screen’ gimmick. The idea is that the entire film exists within apps like Facetime and social media and all that. It’s a gimmick, but usually one reserved for shitty supernatural horror movies with some evil presence stalking and killing people. Here, it’s used for a thriller. A teenage girl goes missing and her father frantically searches for her. And it really works. There are a couple of really tense scenes that are very well put-together and very rarely does the gimmick reach the point where it becomes a stretch (i.e. “you had to strain to get a camera in there for this scene”). The ending becomes a cheap reveal, but I’d say 90% of this movie is very effective and becomes probably the best they can ever do with that gimmick.
Hearts Beat Loud is a great little indie with Kersey Clemons and Nick Offerman. He plays a widowed record store owner in New Jersey and she’s his daughter. She dreams of going to med school in UCLA and he’s hoping she ends up staying around and doesn’t drift apart from him. So he uses their weekly jam sessions as a way of staying close to her. And eventually the pair start writing songs together which end up becoming a bit of a hit. And it’s a wonderful movie. It’s a beautiful father-daughter story with some great songs. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t aim too high, but achieves exactly what it sets out to achieve. And it’s one that will put a smile on your face. Shoplifters is the Palme D’Or winner for this year about a family of (insert title here) in Japan who go around, stealing whatever it is they need to survive. And they constantly walk past a young girl whose parents ignore her and treat her like shit, so they decide to take her in and raise her as one of their own. It’s a really strong film.
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