top10_2018

2018 was a big year for me personally. In many ways it was the most significant of my life so far. In May I got engaged, and recorded the first full-length album with my band. In October, I got married. Went on my honeymoon. Navigated the first holiday season as a member of a new family. It was wonderful. It was also a lot.

With so many major life events demanding my time, energy, and focus, it’s only natural that the hobby of movie watching and reviewing fell by the wayside, at least somewhat. 2018 was the year in which MoviePass ran out of favor (and money) roughly a year after its historic price drop brought an unprecedented number of subscribers to the service. It was the year FilmStruck left us. So not only was my movie viewing down by sheer numbers, but the avenues by which to explore it were narrowing as well.

All this is to say that I didn’t see as many movies as usual in 2018, and as such I don’t feel that my annual top list is as meaningful is it might have been. I know there’s so much that I missed. And I know, therefore, that this list isn’t likely to turn anyone on to any small movies that flew under their radar. So I can’t help but feel my excitement about this annual effort isn’t what it usually is. That said, I can’t break with tradition; and my discussion of movies is always about what they mean to me and not about any supposed social import or insider clout. So it is without pretense or ego that I offer you the 10 movies I liked most from last year.

10. A Quiet Place (dir. John Krasinski)

a-quiet-place

Lean, mean, intimate, and efficient. John Krasinski’s canny multiplex thriller commits to a simple premise: if they hear you, they kill you. It’s impressive how small the spoken script is and how much is conveyed with few words. The opening scene has real guts and would, by itself, probably be one of the year’s best short films. It establishes the stakes clearly, setting the stage for nail-biting set pieces. A Quiet Place doesn’t surprise you with where it goes; rather, it creates suspense by telling you what to expect and then just making you wait for it. Emily Blunt and relative newcomer Millicent Simmonds do an especially good job selling the terror. I doubt this is the movie most people would have expected Jim Halpert to make. The ending is probably closer to Cloverfield than the film deserves, but it all adds up to a particularly satisfying genre exercise. I, for one, will catch the already-planned sequel.

9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, Rodney Rothman)

spider-verse copy

Spider-Man is starting to make a case for himself as the hero with the best movies. I think Batman still has the market cornered and on the strength of the Nolan trilogy probably will for some time; but as a much more upbeat alternative to Batman, Spidey is pretty definitely number 2. Spider-Man is also the first superhero flick to get me and my friends into theaters back in the early 2000s, so what can I say – I have a soft spot for my friendly neighborhood webslinger.

Much is being made of the novel visual style Spider-Verse uses, and not for nothing. It’s one of the most exciting films of the year visually. The key to this film’s success is two critical elements that exist simultaneously: highly stylized art and crystal clear storytelling. What’s immediately obvious about this movie is that it isn’t attempting photo-realism, nor is it going for a 2D cell-shaded look. It’s something in between, existing on multiple planes but essentially evoking the marriage of line and color we’re used to from comic book panels, complete with half-tone dot patterns. It’s funny, the story beats work, the voice cast is super fun (Nic Cage as Spider-Man Noir? Yes, please), and the way it switches up the race and genders of the cast makes for some surprises.

 

8. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)

annihilation

Vision, vision, and more vision – that’s what Annihilation has. This is an incredibly ambitious sci-fi piece loaded with ideas, and if it occasionally stumbles I’m willing to forgive. Bearing superficial similarities to Andrei Tarkovsky or at least Jonathan Glazer, Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina is beautiful and otherworldly. I had some issues with the acting and tone of the thing when I saw it back in February, yet it has stuck with me all year. Why? The film’s images are unforgettable. Its score is haunting. It has multiple scenes that could rank among both the most disturbing and most sublime of the year. No mere puzzle, Annihilation has on its mind the way we deal with trauma, with loss, our own self-destructive impulses. Its mysteries are the mysteries of our minds and souls. It’s going be worth taking multiple trips into the Shimmer.

7. A Star is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)

astarisborn

I was dismissive of A Star is Born almost from the first trailer I saw. I figured it for a cynical crowd-pleaser. But it turns out that despite being the fourth iteration of this story in film, Bradley Cooper has made a really winning drama. A Star Is Born succeeds because of the excellent performances from Cooper, Lady Gaga, and Sam Elliot, among others. It succeeds because it nails the texture and vibe of what it is to perform, the energy from the crowd, the thrill of the moment. It succeeds because Gaga is a bona-fide star who makes you believe she’s a nobody. It succeeds because you buy the relationship between Jackson Maine and Ally the starlet. It succeeds because it manages to show you the interior of these characters. And hey, the music is pretty good, too.

6. Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster)

hereditary

The feel-bad movie of the year? Hereditary upset me and I love it for that. It gets dark and heavy in a way that is not fun and isn’t supposed to be. It’s part and parcel with the rash of despairing horror flicks like It Comes At Night that are dealing with grief and loss and the subtle, unavoidable deterioration of people and relationships. Hereditary is the feature debut of writer-director Ari Aster, a stand-out voice in a year filled with remarkable first films. His is an assured movie that make some ballsy aesthetic choices and is anchored by a devastatingly unhinged and criminally underrated Toni Collette. There were moments when my whole theater was collectively holding its breath and bracing for the hammer to fall. We are truly living in a new golden age for horror.

5. Isle of Dogs (dir. Wes Anderson)

isle-of-dogs

One of the most anticipated releases of the year for me was Isle of Dogs, a film that proves once again Wes Anderson and stop motion go together like dogs and 12-year-old boys (dogs love those). The film is surprising, funny, and packed to the gills with visual humor and creative details. Of course it boasts Anderson’s signature dead-pan wit and understated pathos. There is literally no other movie that looks like this. It’s completely its own invention, and for my money exceeds Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s perhaps unexpectedly grubby and scrappy, in the sense that it’s darker than you might imagine without sacrificing the studied quality we expect from Anderson (and, indeed, in a movie where every frame must be staged by hand, how could it be anything other?). Thank you Wes for this four-year labor of love, and for more of Jeff Goldblum’s soothing baritone.

4. Sorry to Bother You (dir. Boots Riley)

sorry-to-bother-you

There are few things I love more than a movie that goes all the way, and Sorry to Bother You is anything but reticent. In what I think is absolutely the boldest, brashest, most vital film debut of the year, Boots Riley and his creative team virtually vomit inspired metaphor onto the screen with the creative gusto of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the timely social terror of Get Out. It’s a true punk rock movie in which the greatest crime is selling out, but it’s about nothing so petty as being true to your own ideals, whatever that means. Lives and communities, neigh, the entire social order is at stake when Lakeith Stanfield’s put-upon telemarketer ascends to an elite rung of his company amidst his colleagues (including his performance-artist girlfriend played by Tessa Thompson) striking for better pay. He becomes a “power caller,” highly paid to do a secretive job that embroils him in a conspiracy which can only rightly be called bonkers. If you’re bored by same-y blockbusters and staid indies, look no further.

3. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)

first-reformed

First thing to note: the compositions in this film are insanely good. I don’t even want to write any words about it, I just want you to take in its deliberate pans and immaculate framing. First Reformed aches under the weight of its questions which are concerned with nothing less than the future of humankind both physically and spiritually. As it goes it turns more and more personal, centering around the question of whether Pastor Toller (Ethan Hawke) will carry out a drastic and terrible choice – and that shift is almost a relief given the deep groanings expressed in the first half. This is a deadly serious, intensely personal movie, stark and beautiful and fearful and hopeful and sad.

2. BlacKkKlansman (dir. Spike Lee)

blackkklansman

As hilarious as it is harrowing, Spike Lee’s latest comedy/drama/biography BlacKkKlansman is absolutely down in the muck of our nation’s politics and race issues. It’s the kind of movie that slaps you across the face – but then, you weren’t expecting subtlety from Spike Lee. What you do expect is verve, style, and conviction, and this film has it in spades. BlacKkKlansman is based on the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, the first black detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department who, with the help of a white colleague, infiltrated a local KKK chapter. The film is fast-paced and immersive, evoking the style of its 70’s setting, and features strong performances from John David Washington, Adam Driver, Jasper Pääkkönen, Laura Harrier, and, in what is easily the best bit of casting all year, Topher Grace as Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Lee’s messages will take some unpacking; like Do The Right Thing, it’s not always obvious exactly what he’s up to. But by the stunning epilogue, you’ll know there’s no 2018 film more attuned to our present moment in time.

1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville)

wontyoubemeighbor

By what is probably sheer coincidence, I watched my two favorite films of the year in the same weekend. In so doing, Morgan Neville’s documentary about children’s TV paragon Fred Rogers butted up against Lee’s fiery BlacKkKlansman. The two could hardly be less alike; and I couldn’t help but think of them as two poles, two jousts supporting one bifurcated take on the world in 2018.

I remember seeing Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child, but I don’t remember it being particularly significant to me. I didn’t come into the film with an established reverence for the man or the program. The doc does a great job laying out who Fred was, what he was passionate about (educating children and helping them understand and manage their own emotions), and the unique way he went about it. This is a man who showed deep and sincere interest in and compassion for others, and his simple example is on its own a powerful call to kindness. The footage of him lobbying for PBS funding in court is utterly compelling. At the same time, it allows him to speak about his own insecurities, so that the film doesn’t merely build up Rogers as a saint (though, let’s be real, it kinda does – and how can it be helped?) but tells us he’s human, as we are. We can all take time to see the value in others. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? isn’t challenging the documentary format, but its effect is undeniable. It’s as joyful as the last day of school and as cleansing as a baptism.

The Next Ten

Here are my runners-up. List is in alphabetical order:

Eighth Grade

The Favourite

Game Night

Green Book

Incredibles 2

Leave No Trace

Mandy

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Roma

Thoroughbreds


Ten Movies I Missed – This year it might as well be 50, but here we go anyway. A few potential list-toppers that I didn’t get a chance to see: Blindspotting, Burning, Cold War, First Man, If Beale Street Could Talk, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Paddington 2, Shoplifters, Widows, Vox Lux

20 Top Performances

Best Actor

Nicolas Cage – Mandy

Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born

Ethan Hawke – First Reformed

Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

Lakeith Stanfield – Sorry to Bother You


Best Actress

Olivia Coleman – The Favourite

Toni Collette – Hereditary

Olivia Cooke – Throroughbreds

Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade

Lady Gaga – A Star is Born


Best Supporting Actor

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman

Sam Elliott – A Star is Born

Bill Heck – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Michael B Jordan – Black Panther

Jesse Plemons – Game Night


Best Supporting Actress

Rachel McAdams – Game Night

Thomasin McKenzie – Leave No Trace

Emma Stone – The Favourite

Anya Taylor-Joy – Thoroughbreds

Rachel Weisz – The Favourite


Now for some bonus stats (note: these stats only include movies I saw)


Best Couple

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga – A Star is Born

John Krasinski and Emily Blunt – A Quiet Place

Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough – Mandy

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams – Game Night

Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Director: Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman

Best Music: You Were Never Really Here

Funniest Movie: Isle of Dogs

Biggest Surprise: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Biggest Disappointment: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. I usually love the Coens but this didn’t gel for me.

Worst Movie: Cam. Netflix movie doesn’t have enough ideas for its runtime.

Most Overrated: I have a feeling it’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but I haven’t seen it so I can only go with Black Panther.

Most Underrated: The Cloverfield Paradox

Best Sequel: Incredibles 2

Worst Sequel: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Least Enjoyable Good Movie: Roma

Most Enjoyable Bad Movie: Tag

Best Performance by a Bad Actor
Topher Grace – BlacKkKlansman

Worst Performance by a Good Actor:
Jennifer Lawrence – Red Sparrow

Longest Movie: Avengers: Infinity War (2 hours, 29 minutes)

Shortest Movie: You Were Never Really Here (1 hour, 19 minutes)

Best Title: BlacKkKlansman

Worst Title: The 15:17 to Paris

Best Food Scene: Isle of Dogs (Sushi)

Worst Food Scene: The Favourite (Cake)

Most Food Scenes: Green Book

Movie Titles That Refer to Locations: First Reformed, Isle of Dogs, Roma, A Quiet Place, You Were Never Really Here

Titles That Form Complete Sentences: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Sorry to Bother You, A Star is Born, Leave No Trace, Ralph Breaks the Internet, You Were Never Really Here, Hearts Beat Loud

Fiction Movies Based on Real Life: BlacKkKlansman, Green Book, The Favourite, Roma, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Tag, The 15:17 to Paris

Feature Directorial Debuts: Sorry to Bother You, Hereditary, A Star is Born (I think?), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Thoroughbreds, Eighth Grade, Blockers, Cam

Movies by Established Directors in Conversation for their Career Worst: Ready Player One, The 15:17 to Paris, Unsane

Movies in Which the Main Character Has a Doppleganger: Annihiliation, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Cam

Movies in Which Animals that Represent People Are Menaced By Powerful Governments or Organizations: Sorry to Bother You, The Favourite

Movies in Which Someone Contemplates, Commits, or Appears to Commit Suicide: First Reformed, Hereditary, A Star is Born, Annihilation, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, You Were Never Really Here, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The 15:17 to Paris, Cam

Live Action Movies with Animated Sequences: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Sorry to Bother You, Mandy

So… that was my year in film. How was yours?

Advertisements