Tuesday, January 22, 2019

My Top 10 Films of 2018

Continuing from yesterday, here's the rest of my Top 10 Films of 2018. Remember, if I left off your favorite film, it's a personal insult to you. Yes, you.

10. Vice - I think Dick Cheney gets off too easy. One of the most corrupt, power-hungry men responsible for getting us into an unnecessary war we're still paying for gets a semi-comedic biopic treatment. It doesn't quite humanize him, but I think it takes the sting out of his corruption a bit. But once I put aside the Cheney movie I want to see, I have to admit the one we got is pretty good. Christian Bale gives an amazing performance and I had to remind myself several times exactly who that was emoting beneath all that makeup. And I have to admit, the darkly funny tone DOES truly work for the end of the movie where Cheney's health is dire and he's near death. Director Adam McKay delivers his version of Dick Cheney well, even though I don't think it'll change the minds of anyone who had an opinion out Cheney before the film.

9. BlackKklansman - A black police officer in the '70s infiltrates the KKK. Tell me that's not an incredible premise for a movie. A lot has been made of Spike Lee's decision to use the final moments of the film to draw a straight line from this version of the KKK to the white supremacists of the Charolettesville rally. When I heard about it, it seemed heavy-handed but in the film it's absolutely an earned moment. I'm writing this before nominations come out, and from where I sit, John David Washington should be a contender for Best Actor, and Topher Grace is pretty damn good as David Duke too. I like the subversiveness of casting the former boy-next-door as the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

8. If Beale Street Could Talk - A powerful story of love and injustice. A black man named Fonny is wrongly accused of rape just as his romance with longtime friend Tish blossoms. We experience their romance in flashbacks alongside the present-timeline story of Tish dealing with Fonny's incarceration as she and her mother work to find the rape victim who can prove Fonny's been misidentified as the perpetrator. Heartbreaking and beautifully shot, even more that MOONLIGHT, this is the film that made me eager to see what writer/director Barry Jenkins can do with a studio budget. All of his films feel personal and emotional.

7. Eighth Grade - Speaking of personal and emotional, writer/director Bo Burnham puts us all inside the life of a 13 year-old girl in her final weeks of eighth grade. Kayla is the kind of girl who's confident on social media, but shy and anonymous among her classmates. I think EIGHTH GRADE had some of the more intense and emotionally uncomfortable film moments of the year, whether it's Kalya feeling she needs to hint she's promiscuous in order to get her crush to like her, or the utterly, painfully tense sequence of Kalya getting a ride home from an older friend who uses Truth or Dare to interrogate her sexual experience level and also establish he's got all the power in the car. Watching him slowly push the boundaries and coercing Kayla well past her comfort zone was especially potent in the year of MeToo and Brett Kavanaugh.

6. Love, Simon - It's been 25 years, and it's time to acknowledge that teen movies should be free of John Hughes's shadow. This was one of the thoughts that came to me during LOVE, SIMON, a high-school dramedy about a 17 year-old boy (Nick Robinson) with a secret. You see, Simon is gay. This isn't a movie about Simon realizing he's gay, or figuring out his sexuality, which is a not-uncommon story (for supporting players) in teen films. (Or smaller indie films, if the lead is the one discovering their sexuality.) Simon knows who he is, he just doesn't know what to do about it.

There's a bullshit line that a lot of reviewers use when discussing the experience of walking out of a film as a privileged person who has felt empathy for some kind of "other": "It's not a gay/black/Muslim/etc. story, it's a universal story." It's a line that means well, but when wrongly deployed can seem to be erasing the uniqueness of the black/gay/etc. experience. LOVE, SIMON is a gay story. There's no logic to erasing that. But it's a gay story with so much to say about identity and perception that it allows for identification beyond sexual orientation. LOVE, SIMON is about finding the strength to be seen as the person you are and realizing that what everyone else thinks about it means both nothing and everything.

5. Avengers: Infinity War - I could knock this for being a film that only works if you have even a passing familiarity with the Marvel franchises. Where the first AVENGERS did an excellent job of reintroducing the main players in a context that allowed new viewers to feel immediately up to speed, this third installment quite a bit less hand-holding. But if you look at this as the 19th film in an unfolding saga, that critique goes away fast. It nimbley balances the entire ensemble not just in terms of characters but also their disparate tones too. Thor's arrival in Wakanda is easily one of 2018's best film moments with Thanos himself being the new gold standard for mo-cap CGI characters. There's never a moment where you question Thanos is actually there. It's a popcorn movie, but it's a GOOD popcorn film.

4. Black Panther - Ryan Coogler is easily one of the best directors Marvel has every employed and even with Marvel's history of pulling impressive casts together, this has one of the strongest. There are a lot of reasons why this film surpasses most other Marvel efforts, with one of the most crucial being Michael B. Jordan's turn as the villain Killmonger. Marvel hasn't always had the best track record with their villains, but Jordan makes his one of the most charismatic and interesting antagonists. You're not quite rooting for him, but you understand him with a depth that most Marvel foes lack. We also are introduced to Wakanda, a world unlike any other in Marvel, and it feels like it has a richer, deeper culture than some of the settings in earlier entries.

3. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse - Holy crap, this was fun! And probably one of the most visually inventive movies of the year too! It was just a big fun comic book of a film that captures the best aspects of the Spider-mythos. I really feel like this opens the door to the next chapter of superhero films, showing animation as a viable way to adapt these characters in a way that reflects their more fantastic origins. It's the antithesis of the Nolan approach, which demands everything be grounded and fit into the real world.

2. A Quiet Place - Brilliant, high concept genre film-making. I fear it will be overlooked by Academy voters, especially those who only watched this on a screener at home instead of the theater where you could feel the audience holding their breath for 90 minutes. Earth has been invaded by aliens who track their prey by sound. After a ballsy opening sequences that establishes just how viscous the creatures (and filmmakers) are willing to be, the film leaps forward and shows how ready it is to milk every aspect of this hook. A family of four, headed by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt do their best to survive on a farm in the middle of nowhere. There's just one additional complication - she's pregnant. How is she supposed to give birth without making a peep, much less care for an infant?

Director and co-writer Krasinski's decision to cast hearing impaired actress Millicent Simmonds as one of the children is a gamble that pays off. This is the kind of thriller that seems made just for me - a simple hook with all the possible tension wrung out of a contained location. Aspiring writers should study this for how the film sets up its premise with a minimum of dialogue exposition and then milks every aspect of that premise.

1. Mission: Impossible - Fallout - The craft that goes into creating a solid action film is often deeply under appreciated. I was already on the MI train just after seeing it in theaters. Watching it on bluray and seeing how this film was made took that conviction to an even higher level. There are at least five incredible action sequences in this film that were largely achieved practically. We all knew that Tom Cruise really did a HALO jump for the film, but did you know he was really hanging from that helicopter in the climax? And that he learned to fly the helicopter so that he could act as his own stunt pilot and essentially the camera operator for that sequence? I don't even know how to begin to summarize how they shot the motorcycle chase through Paris. Action sequences at this level are pure artistry.

But this isn't all just action - there's actually a pretty solid character story for Ethan Hunt as the man who's given everything to his country while losing the most important things that mattered to him. Does the Syndicate plot get a little too complicated? Yeah, but thirty minutes into the film that doesn't matter so much and you can just enjoy Henry Cavill's fist pumping, Angela Bassett being a badass boss, and Ving Rhames being Ving Rhames. If every action film was this good, the genre would have no trouble getting respect.


  1. I enjoyed your write ups of the films and your 10 year anniversary posts. I especially enjoyed the old interview you posted about Human Target. I guess you never know what will strike someone.

    The real reason I'm posting is to say that I thought the last part of your last sentence about Love, Simon is just a killer line. Not to go overboard here, but it seemed to be to just state a universal truth we ignore at our peril. No matter what we might tell ourselves about trying to do what we think is best and being try to be true to ourselves, and even realizing how harmful it can be to pay too much attention to what others think, what others think about us matter a lot.

    Anyways, I though it was quite impressive that you stated something I thought was important in less than 15 words. Congratulations on your anniversary.

  2. You were right about 7th Heaven. I thought the Sportsnight recaps were also excellent. But, sadly, I think Profaci turned out to be dirty, although with a bit of an excuse.

  3. I've also enjoyed the 10th anniversary stuff and was hoping you'd break from it for this top 20 list.

    Every year there are some hidden gems you highlight - at least they're hidden for those of us in medium-sized cities in the Midwest where we mostly only know of the heavily marketed films showing at an AMC-16. BRIGSBY BEAR and LOVE & MERCY were a couple of movies I would have never heard of and seen otherwise. This year, most of your list received a lot of publicity, but there's still a couple I wasn't aware of and am curious about.

    Thanks as always for this!

    1. Hey Ed, glad you liked it. Sorry this year the list had fewer "rarities," but that's the way it falls sometimes. BLINDSPOTTING and SORRY TO BOTHER YOU are probably the two furthest off of most radars and even those two got a decent amount of press. Was SUPPORT THE GIRLS well-marketed out your way?

    2. SUPPORT THE GIRLS got zero publicity where I am...which is ironic because, after watching the trailer, it looks like it takes place 15 minutes from my house.