I’m back to do my second annual movie column. With the 2018 calendar year coming to a close, I’m ranking the 13 movies released in 2018 that I saw this year. There are still others from this year on my watchlist, which I’ll mention at the end, and I am planning on doing an Oscar ballot on this website. However, this piece is simply a fun and entertaining rank of my favorite movies. These are takes that will make more sense if you’ve seen the films but there are not spoilers in terms of plot, rather it’s more a mashup of thoughts and reviews. Here we go:
13. Isle of Dogs
Let me begin this by saying that I don’t see trashy movies, so coming in at 13th out of 13 in no way means that the movie was bad. Isle of Dogs was very fine. Wes Anderson’s trademark symmetry was very much present and it was a quite picturesque. The plot is heartwarming and with a powerful message, but also balanced with a few solid jokes tossed in as well. The animation is beautiful, but the film felt like it dragged on a bit at the ending as a whole. The climax and resolution was telegraphed and rather predictable, one you could see coming a mile away, yet the time to actually reach the resolution was unreasonably long. Overall, it’s a movie that does a lot of things well, but nothing that blows you out of the park. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing I loved. Unmemorable in a lot of ways, but well done.
12. First Man
Speaking of unmemorable, First Man. This may be the most unmemorable film I’ve ever seen, so much so that when I was discussing the movies I’d seen this year with a big film guy recently, I totally forgot that I had even seen this. The readership of this article is lucky I even remember what happened in it. It’s another Damien Chazelle-Ryan Gosling partnership and it largely did everything it set out to do. It tells the story of Neil Armstrong reasonably well, humanizes him and develops his backstory. It’s shots are tremendous and everything is brilliantly set up, as you would expect from a Chazelle movie. My only real gripe is that the ending was abrupt and sudden, along with the fact that it had no staying power. It tells a nice story and then you move on and never think about it again. Is that worth two hours? Up to you to decide.
I am a Star Wars diehard, and as I always do, I entered the theater in pure terror, bracing for the many ways that they could f*** up this movie after the tumultuous lead up. In the end, it was actually pretty solid. Alden Ehrenreich was very solid as Han Solo and it was an enjoyable movie. There were parts of the plot that I felt were underdeveloped and odd, but I pick those apart more as a Star Wars fan than as a movie fan, which means I can’t give a lot of insight. Solo did lead me to yell audibly in disbelief in a movie theater for the first time ever, but that’s related to a spoiler so you can ask me personally if you want the backstory. Otherwise, I don’t have much else to say. There was absolutely no reason for this movie to be made but the acting and plot were enjoyable enough to make it worth it.
The best way to describe this movie is “angry”. In some ways, it’s more documentary than it is a biopic, though of course what is presented is not factual, but an interpretation of events. A biopic on Dick Cheney is not inherently a bad idea, in fact it’s a very good one. Cheney is a fascinating historical character whose rise to considerable power was quite unlikely. But it doesn’t tell us the story of Dick Cheney so much as it does attempt to recreate a provocative interpretation of the Bush-era that you would have found on The Daily Show from 2006. Thus, it feels almost like a missed opportunity. I understand that making a biopic is very difficult when you are attempting to reconstruct the events of someone’s life that 1.) you don’t really know and 2.) they are not consenting to. In attempting to tie lines between Cheney and the current political climate, the movie almost hackishly misses the true influence that Cheney had. Put more specifically, Vice blames Cheney for everything wrong in today’s current politics and administration, which distracts from the areas of history where Cheney was absolutely influential. Instead of humanizing Cheney and giving him a real backstory (I would’ve liked to know more about Wyoming, please), the film turns him into the evil robot caricature that was paraded around 10+ years ago. It fails to develop key relationships to the plot, such as between Cheney and George W. Bush, instead simply portraying Bush as yet another meaningless chess pawn on the board of Cheney’s path to world domination. Once again, this film was an interpretation of historical events, and it acknowledges that fact right at the beginning, but in doing so, it took the most click-baity interpretation possible, coming off as quite underwhelming. All of that said, Sam Rockwell, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, and most of all, Christian Bale were tremendous. They deserve any and all recognition they get for masterful acting performances in what was otherwise a very middling movie.
9. Boy Erased
I feel about this movie the same that I felt about The Post last year. It’s very much a picture that was created to win awards, but because it feels like it was created to win awards, it won’t win any awards. Recruiting up-and-coming actor Lucas Hedges as the lead and Nicole Kidman as supporting actress, and choosing a compelling issue like conversion therapy set it up so well, but the pieces really didn’t come together. Again, it’s not bad. It’s just nowhere near elite. There was one major plot point in particular that was egregiously underexplored and they left the ending a little short of information, but otherwise it’s very mediocre. Probably not worth your time, but also not a waste in anyway.
The topical matter of the film is in fact incredibly interesting and absolutely worth making a movie about, but the execution was questionable at times. The characters were pretty well developed and the acting was fine. The score was very good and it matched the emotions of the film at various points in time, and I liked the addition of various 70s hits to fit the time period (Lucky Man, Brandy, etc). I don’t have any problems with the movie in that sense. However, I thought some of the attempts to tie it to modern politics felt a bit hackish. Obviously the main audience for this movie is going to be #Resistance types, people who already acutely aware of the ties between Trump/Unite the Right Rally and the 70s KKK. Thus, there really wasn’t a need to toss in as many jabs or direct ties to the modern political climate. I much would have preferred to simply let the audience extrapolate the implications from the topical content, not serving it to them on a silver platter. Still, it’s Spike Lee vintage: provocative and thought-provoking, and not a bad film in anyway.
7. Black Panther
I’m not a Marvel movie fan and it's important to preface my thoughts with that. I don’t dislike them, I’ve also never been a fan. I don’t see many of the movies, I don’t read the comic books, and I don’t really follow the characters. However, Black Panther was a genuinely good movie. The soundtrack was excellent and the plot was engrossing even to those who are not comic book fans like myself. There are times I find myself bored at comic book movies but there was never a single moment of boredom in Black Panther. It was visually pleasing, engaging, and entertaining. I probably won’t watch it again because again, it’s not really my thing, but it’s absolutely worth a watch and no doubt the finest Marvel film I’ve seen.
6. Bohemian Rhapsody
Here we go. I’m going to first preface all of what I’m about to say with the fact that I am a self-described Queen fan. Like most nerds, I too had a teen Queen phase and in the years leading up to the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, I was frankly dreading it. There were so many possible ways to mess up a Freddie Mercury biopic but in the end, I was incredibly satisfied. It should first be noted that the difference between the IMDb user reviews (8.3/10) and the Metacritic reviews (49/100) is the most extreme divide I’ve ever seen for any film and it underscores the divide in how to think about this movie: separating the visual and media experience from it as a raw movie. People who are paid to judge movies as movies are going to find big problems with it. But those who are there to be entertained, to be amazed, and to simply have fun are going to love it. I’m very comfortable being in the latter.
For the first angle, yes, there were deeply flawed parts to the movie. Both in terms of historical events (Queen leaving EMI, “breaking up”, the chronology of his AIDS diagnosis, etc.) but also developing characters and relationships, all of which were underwhelming. I am less harsh than others on each of those points and I think you can reasonably argue that each of those points are more symbolic than they are literal. I’m not going to get into the meat of each of those because again, I’m not here to give spoilers. But I’m sympathetic to most of the arguments. But for myself and so many others, all of that just simply isn’t important or relevant when it is consumed with the otherwise awesome experience that is the movie. Bar none, the greatest trait of the movie is the historical recreation. Malek’s transformation into Mercury is exceptional, given not just how high stakes that role is, but how well he does it. The goal of an actor is to take on the character they’re playing to become that character and Malek morphs into Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody makes you feel like you were there at the most famous moments of Queen’s career, which to so many of us who were not old enough to have experienced that, is breathtakingly awesome. The soundtrack is well, Queen, and the whole media experience created makes it so that if you are a true fan of the band, it should give you the damn chills. At the end of the day, if you want to be a critic and nitpick away, go ahead. But this film is much like Queen: a band that was imperfect, nerdy, anthemic, and too good for the critics, but just right for the masses.
(in order to resolve this split between film and content, I decide to rank this in the middle. There’s no movie I had more fun at than Bohemian Rhapsody, but it also isn’t really fair to rank it as a movie alone.)
5. A Star is Born
I have no major problems with this movie. I didn’t absolutely love it either. The top observation is that Lady Gaga has a phenomenal voice, but I knew that already. She was a very smart option to cast for that role and Bradley Cooper was fine. His voice isn’t great but he played the part of the fading and scrubby old rocker well enough. The soundtrack was good and catchy and the plot was the same canned one from the previous three versions of the movie. There are a few parts that I would have made differently but overall it was a solid film.
4. Green Book
If you want a feel-good movie for the holidays, then Green Book is for you. Chronicling the story of an Italian-American bouncer and a black pianist traveling the south, Green Book is one of the most wholesome of the year. It’s not going to wow you, but you’re not going to leave unhappy and all the plot ends are appropriately tied up. With heavy hitters like Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali playing the main two roles, it’s a film that is perfectly worth your time, while still dealing with subject matter that is deeper than the face value.
3. Eighth Grade
I’m a huge fan of Boyhood from several years back and Eighth Grade was a very similar film, except being the exact opposite in terms of setting. Rather than a boy, it deals with a girl, and rather than being of gargantuan timeline like Boyhood, this film is compressed into just a week. Yet the message is still consistent and Eighth Grade is yet another impressive encapsulation of the emotions of teenagehood and human adolescence. The performance put on by lead actress Elsie Fisher was far beyond her years and Josh Hamilton was also excellent as her father in the film. It’s also a rather short movie, yet you get all the importance that you could ask for. While set in modern times, it’s relatable for any age and definitely one of the year’s best.
2. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy is terrific in her portrayal of the author-turned-forge artist Lee Israel, but it’s not merely an instance of good acting in a bad movie. The story is effective in both humanizing Israel and turning a character who is commiting literal crimes into someone the audience cheers for and in some cases, even likes. McCarthy is great at creating that character and she’s aided by Richard Grant also putting on a good effort as the gay best friend. It’s a crime film turned into a feel good story, in some ways, funny, engaging, and likeable. At only 107 minutes, it’s a rather short movie that packs emotion and plenty of plot into a focused punch.
The best movie I saw this year is the one that’s been getting all the hype and well, that hype is right on the money. If we’re going with one word to sum up this movie, it is “majestic”. Alfonso Cuarón crafts an illustrious world through slow pans and wide shots that he illustrates with immense detail in slow moving and vividly rich scenes. It’s a story of personal relationship, adversity, and triumph in the human condition and is absolutely worth the time it takes to see. I have some nitpicks about scenes that perhaps went on too long or where the movie in particular should have ended, but it’s so darn enriching that it’s impossible to get too aggravated about one thing in particular. I recommend that everyone see this movie and do so in as dark a space as possible because the whole sensory experience is only possible in those types of surroundings. Roma is worth the time, so do it.
So that’s my list for this calendar year. Again these are just my opinions and I’m always up for discussion and debate. If you want to know the remaining films from this year I want to see before the Academy Awards, this is the essential list:
- The Favourite
- Mary Queen of Scots
- First Reformed
- If Beale Street Could Talk
I’m also up to seeing Vox Lux and Widows, but they are not as essential. With that, I wish you a Happy New Year and we’ll talk again later.
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