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Favorite Films of 2018

Friday, January 4, 2019
You know what time it is, so before I get into my top ten, let’s get a few other things out of the way.

First, click here if you would like to see the full list of movies I saw in 2018.

Movies I wish I saw that I think could have made my list (UPDATED 1/12/19):
  • Burning
  • If Beale Street Could Talk - loved Moonlight. Love Barry Jenkins. Love Brian Tyree Henry. Can't wait. 
    • Update: Saw it. Loved it. Barry Jenkins is one of the most romantic film makers working today. He shoots love and romance with such sensuality and care. Ultimately Beale Street did not change my top ten, but I really enjoyed it.
  • Juliet, Naked - a trusted friend has this in his top ten, so I bought this yesterday and hope to watch it this weekend to see where it lands for me.
    • Update: Enjoyed this very much. Love Hawke and Byrne in this. Quite charming. 
  • Shoplifters
  • Wildlife - I just bought this today, so we will know soon enough. 
    • Update: I was really struck by the firm hand on the directing side. It's not flashy but it's really competent film making in a way that helped the emotions hit home. It felt to me that each shot was very considered, with much thought given to how what was in the frame would progress the story. And there is no question that the performances in this were incredible. Carey Mulligan needs some Oscar love furr sure. 

Movies I wish I saw that probably would not have made my list, but I expect that I would have enjoyed them:
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Mandy
  • Support the Girls
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • The Old Man and the Gun
  • Zama
  • Bodied
Some movies I know everyone really loved but that just weren’t for me:
  • Hereditary - I’m not big into horror to begin with, and this was just too much for me. Obviously so good, but just no thanks. 
  • First Reformed - I love me some Hawke. I like a lot of what was going on in this movie. It’s a little slow, deliberate, and yet it felt like it was building to something powerful. And it kind of does, until it doesn’t. There are some incredible powerful scenes and imagery in this film, but for me the ending just failed to strike a chord, which left me feeling cold about the whole affair. 
  • Eighth Grade - this movie might be too good. It’s too real. Too painful. I just couldn’t enjoy it. That means something, but for me it means, not on my list. 
Biggest personal disappointments:
  • The Predator - I don’t care about The Predator franchise. I haven’t seen any of the other Predator movies, but I love Shane Black, and I was so excited about this cast. This movie isn’t awful, but it’s not as good as I knew in my heart of hearts it should be. I’m not sure what happened, whether it was studio interference, wonky editing, or things just didn’t come together, but I was sad. 
  • Mute - I love that Jake Gyllenhall train movie (or Source Code as some people call it). I was sort of disappointed by Warcraft, but the little I had seen had me very excited for this. As much as I hate to say it, this might have been the worst movie I saw this year. 
Favorite Tom Hardy performance in a kind of bad movie (previous winner: Legend):
  • Venom - I don’t care about any "Venom is a bad movie" takes. Yes, Upgrade was a better movie even with discount Tom Hardy, but the real Tom Hardy is a man among boys. He GOES for it with this performance. Watching him just lay it all out there for this movie was a sight to behold. I’m sure Sony will learn the wrong lessons from the box office performance, but hey, if they let Tom Hardy keep doing weird stuff in these movies, then I’ll keep buying tickets. 
Best movie about a Scottish monarch fighting for power:
  • Outlaw King (sorry Mary Queen of Scots) - way better than it had any right to be.
Also Netflix movies that I was surprised were really good:
  • To All the Boys I loved Before - yeah, so good. 
  • Set it Up - how was this so good? 
Honorable Mentions:

  • Free Solo - my heart was racing. I legitimately thought that this could be a movie about a guy dying. “That can’t be what this is right? They wouldn’t market it like this, and release it if he died, right? Or would they…” I was inspired and ashamed all at once. It had me asking myself, do I love anything in this world the way this guy loves climbing? Is there anything I care about so passionately that I would live in a van and eat beans so often? 
  • Sorry to Bother You - this movie was a wild ride start to finish. I saw it at a screening with a very enlightening Q&A with the writer/director, and the energy was so great. I love the actors in the film. I love how weird it is. It’s equal parts entertaining and shocking. Off putting and thought provoking. And it really goes where you don't expect. Like really don't expect. 
  • Deadpool 2 - strong sequel that stands on its own. It was such a surprise that the first one was so good. While this could never replicate that feeling, it was still surprising that it was this good, even with that hype. Loved Ricky Baker, and that Brad Pitt cameo, almost as much as I loved Rob Delaney (also I really hope you're watching Catastrophe). 
  • Paddington 2 - this movie is a pure delight. It is moving. It is funny. It has a delightfully arch Hugh Grant performance. There is plenty of marmalade to go around, and also it's just so well made. More kid-friendly entertainment like this, please. 
  • Crazy Rich Asians - I love these books and I loved this movie. The wedding scene was so beautiful I literally cried. If you saw it, you get how great this one is. Bok bok b****. 
  • Mid90s/Minding the Gap - I feel like it might be disrespectful to lump these together like this but it’s weird that these both came out this year. The former is the directorial debut of Jonah Hill. This great movie about growing up and skateboarding. The latter is this heart wrenching documentary on Hulu, that seems like it will be about skateboarders but ends up being about child abuse, and growing up, and poverty in America, race, friendship, relationships, parenthood. Oh man, it’s good. 
  • Blindspotting - I felt really connected to this movie. I grew up just south of San Jose, about an hour from Oakland, but there was so much of this that reminded me of what it was like growing up in the Bay Area. The way people talk. The music. This movie tackles so much so well. Race. Friendship. I loved the dream sequences with the spoken word elements. The way it subverts your expectations and takes you places you didn’t think you would go. So great. 
  • Roma - I’m seeing this high on so many people’s lists and I get it. I wish I could have seen it in a theater. The film making is incredible. The story is affecting, and the way he tells the story shows the grasp he has on cinematic language. And at the same time, watching this movie felt a little like work to me. It required my attention in a way that no other movie did and that was rewarded in huge ways, but alas, I still enjoyed others on my list more. 
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor - just cried my way through it. Watched it with the whole family and we had an almost religious experience just watching the life of this kind and powerful man, so open and vulnerable with his self doubt and insecurities, and at the same time being so brave in how he contributed to the world. 
  • Avengers: Infinity War - This just barely got bumped out of my top ten, but it is deserving, perhaps not as a stand-alone film, but the overall experience. Basically 2+ hours of incredibly satisfying payoff. An investment of 10 years and 18 films. Characters and stories I care about, all coming to a head. It’s quite impressive what they were able to do, how they balanced so many competing storylines and characters, making Thanos actually seem like a real person with a somewhat logical viewpoint. Sure some of it falls apart if you put it under the microscope, but at the end of the day, it was a cinematic experience like few I’ve ever had. Seeing it for the first time unfold in an IMAX theater, full of fans was exhilarating. It was pure energy and joy. Thor coming into the battle in Wakanda and Bruce Banner’s look on his face. My guess is too that this film will rise in people’s estimation once we have Endgame. At the end of the day I don’t care that they will undo a lot of the ending. In the moment, I was invested and devastated. It may not have lasted as my brain kicked into gear in the parking lot, but for those two to three hours I was captivated and I was there. I was present and I was having an experience. That’s movie magic. 
And now for the top ten!

10. Game Night

This movie isn’t just great for a comedy. It’s a great movie. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. But it works because it’s actually telling a story with characters that I cared about very quickly.

The real case study of the year for me was this movie compared to Tag. Both looked very similar from the outside. Large studio comedies, with a pretty simple but funny premise, incredible looking casts. But Game Night is executing at a whole other level.

They set an emotional throughline for almost every character. There is some sort of growth or arc. Each pairing in the movie has an interesting dynamic or conflict that is played out throughout the events of the movie. These things all add depth to character, drive organic conflict and comedy between the characters, all while driving the main plot forward.

The main mystery plot was actually surprising, with twists that I didn’t see coming, the gags being built organically from the characters and the story, not just JOKES being TOLD, or funny lines of dialogue.

Also, in my humble opinion, this was one of the best directed movies of the year. The camera work was inventive and interesting (see the opening credits and game playing montages). The editing added to the humor (see the cuts between the party and the intense kidnapping fight at the beginning). Not to mention the great oner where they are all tossing the egg. Fantastic soundtrack. The great set-ups and pay-offs (rich people fight clubs!!) and I could never forget, one of the greatest Jesse Plemons performances of all time.

Also it’s actually kind of emotional. There is a real pay off in the relationship between the brothers, and the relationship between the husband and wife. It just all really works. So impressive on every level.

9. American Animals

This is one of my favorite trailers of the year. Go ahead and watch it. I could almost just rave this whole time about the trailer, the editing, the music, the way it all builds to a great question, and then cuts at the exact right place having you go, okay I want to see how that plays out.

I would say stop reading and just watch without knowing anything further. If the trailer does not convince you to see this movie, then I’m going to spoil a framing device that was fun to discover, but I’m hoping may convince you to give it a try.

Part of the marketing from the trailer is “This isn’t based on a true story. This happened.” The way he approaches it in the movie is to intercut the narrative with interviews and voice over from the real life people that went through this.

It was so compelling and entertaining. It made it feel almost like a weird mix between narrative film, and documentary. Like some kind of hybrid. This showed itself in interesting ways when narrators would remember events differently, the movie would often show it multiple ways, illustrating the fact that memory and history is not objective.

I enjoyed the director's first film, The Imposter (currently streaming on Amazon Prime). That film is more documentary but uses some of the same devices to a lesser extent.

However, what really blew me away was how this movie made me feel during the actual heist. My heart was beating in my throat. It made it so real. It put me there, pumping adrenaline. I forgot where I was. That kind of powerful film going experience led me to go back, and it’s what earns it a place on my list.

8. Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Tom Cruise is a national treasure. Christopher McQuarrie is a national treasure. I know he has said definitively that he is not making another M:I movie, but I hope against hope that in time he will change his mind. This has to be the best ongoing action franchise we have. Real people. Real stunts. Real Tom Cruise jumping out of things. Real Henry Cavill reloading his arms.

Can I just take a second to moan a little about how underrated I think Cavill is? I honestly think his Superman is incredible. Man of Steel is a solid movie. Then things get a little wonky but Cavill is never the problem. Look at him in The Man from UNCLE (another underrated gem)!

Cavill is fantastic in this movie. And you know what, so is everybody else.

I love this score. I love the direction they took the story. This is the first true sequel in the franchise in my opinion. It builds on Rogue Nation in a way that elevates RN. I sort of liked that movie when it first came out. I like it a LOT more after Fallout. I love Solomon Lane. I love Rebecca Ferguson. There is just so much great stuff happening.

Again, characters, conflict. Action set pieces that really build on what we know about these people and drive the story. The bathroom fight. The helicopter chase. Michelle Monaghan. Vanessa Kirby. Did I mention Rebecca Ferguson doing her leg thing? God bless Ethan Hunt. Long may he reign.

Ps. If you want the true director's commentary for this movie, check out the whole series of Empire podcasts. I believe it totals 6 hours, and they answer pretty much every conceivable question you might have about the making of this movie. I love when film makers open up about process like that.

7. Annihilation

I love Alex Garland. Ex Machina was my favorite movie of the year it came out. I’ve read several of the man’s novels. I really enjoy his collaborations with Danny Boyle. This movie is bonkers. I can’t believe they let him make it. It’s so weird. It’s so moody. I love the soundtrack. I love the theme. I love Tessa Thompson turning into a tree randomly.

It has a thin thread of a connection to the books, but honestly I feel like this is a lot better. Everything combined to create this trippy experience that is unlike anything I've seen in theaters in a while. It preserved the untethered dreamlike state of the book in this way. There are moments of genuine thrills and horror that hit me in ways other movies fail to do. I'm thinking of when they discover the tape of the previous expedition. The scene with the weird bear monster thing.

I'm also a huge fan of the framing device of the interview. It created this sense of unreliability and dread, knowing that something horrible may have happened and maybe even she doesn't know what it was. And then there is the ending. It is so incredibly weird that it's just a joy to behold. Ten something minutes of whatever you want to call it. And then finally the ambiguity of the exchange between Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac, leaving the theater with questions and full of thought. I just love that.

6. A Quiet Place

I’m conflicted having this movie so high. Part of me feels like Annihilation or Blindspotting are more deserving, but at the end of the day, this theater going experience was so singular that it earned a spot. Krasinski really impressed me with his direction in this film. It’s amazing that it has almost no dialogue but the visual film making is so well done, that it never feels slow.

It’s an emotional story, focusing on the relationships, and is this great metaphor for how we try to protect our children from the scary things in the world.

For me the core of the movie is the father/daughter story. But in each relationship you have something meaningful happening. The son is coming into his own. The mother and father are connecting and loving each other. They are all dealing with grief and guilt.

How do we grieve as a family. How do we keep our kids safe? As children how do we deal with the emotional inheritance of our parents, and come into our own identity safe with the knowledge that we are loved and cared for, regardless of the ill we think we have done?

This movie is also a master class in how a powerful ending elevates the whole.

Also Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are the cutest.

5. Widows

Steve McQueen is definitely on my list of favorite working filmmakers right now. Gillian Flynn is also making extremely interesting choices in her career, and I love what she is doing. I will never not be sad that her adaptation of Utopia with David Fincher didn’t get fully greenlit by HBO.

Anyway, another great film driven by women. It's also a great example of how a director can elevate genre. The opening scene puts you right there. In just a few minutes of screen time we get to see every relationship in a few moments, where we feel like we know these couples and we know these women. The car driving away, the intensity of it. The sustained tension of that shot with the cop car chasing them. The way we are thrust into their lives as we see what’s left for them with their husbands gone. It’s just such stellar story telling.

This cast is also ridiculous across the board. Brian Tyree Henry is the MVP of the year, and he gives a dynamic and charismatic performance as always. Daniel Kaluuya is so scary. The way McQueen shows us who he is is incredibly effective and affecting.

And there is this shot.

Colin Farrell with his accent and being handsome and cool.

And then there are the women. Viola Davis and her dog. Elizabeth Debicki breaking your heart with how good she is. Cynthia Erivo running so fast and just exuding cool ("You need to watch how you speak to me"), and here I thought Michelle was supposed to be fast… and furious. Okay I am really sorry about that.

This movie builds to the heist and shows us something real and thrilling. It’s grounded and it’s scary and it’s real. I loved all of it.

Then there is the continuous take where you hear the conversation in the car, and you see the neighborhood change in the course of one conversation. It’s everything. That kind of choice is why McQueen is so good.

Also I loved Hunger and Shame and I do miss Michael Fassbender from this movie.

Is there any movie that wouldn’t be better with Michael Fassbender in it? I say nay.

4. A Star is Born

I don’t think I need to say much about this one. It has a chance to sweep the major categories at the Oscars. Lady Gaga is incredible. Bradley Cooper is incredible, both as an actor and as a director.

The music is (mostly) great. The musical performances are moving.

The first hour or so may be one of the best movies of the last 5 years. The second half doesn’t quite hit home, but still when this movie sings, it really sings. The highs are high.

Show me a person that doesn’t get goosebumps the first time she gets on stage to sing Shallows, and I’ll show you a person without a soul. In fact, if you want to give a robot sentience and emotion, just have them watch that scene and see them come alive. A single tear will drip down their robot cheek shorting out their circuits. You’ll say “Hey.” The robot will turn and say “What?” and of course you will respond, “I just wanted to take another look at you.” And now you and the robot are in love.

3. First Man

I have some doubts. I only got to see this movie once, and it was months ago at this point. It was a packed screening and the energy was great.

I love Damien Chazelle. La La Land and Whiplash were both my favorite movies of their respective years. I also love me some Ryan Gosling. And space. But no one is talking about this movie. I’ve hardly seen it on any lists and it barely made a splash at the box office. I guess maybe that’s because of A Star is Born?

Anyway - the movie was gone so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to catch it a second time in theaters before it left.

BUT. My experience in this movie was incredible. This movie worked on two core fronts for me. First, the directing and film making was piercing. I really felt like I was part of this space program having these experiences. It was unlike any other space movie I can recall. Put it up against Apollo 13, Interstellar, 2001, what this movie does really well is show the subjective experience of early space travel in a very visceral and impactful way. Again it got my heart beating. I felt like I was there. That’s something special.

Then on the other hand, I really was drawn into the subtlety of the emotional narrative. I read it as the story of a man trying to deal with grief, who is not good at expressing or processing his emotions, and basically throwing himself into his work as a way to cope. And yet this is such an enormous stressor on its own that it can’t be an escape or means of numbing. It just adds more pain.

The catharsis for me at the end was not about landing on the moon, it was about Neil letting go of the grief about his daughter. It was that last scene where he is separated from his wife by glass which read like a metaphor for everything their marriage had been going through since they lost their daughter. Him putting up his hand essentially saying “I’ve been gone for a while. I know it. I’m not quite back but I’m trying and I’m going to keep trying to be present with you.” And in that moment them having just a spark of connection. I just thought it was all so beautiful.

I think Ryan Gosling is getting some criticism that he can only play these two roles. Either he’s the quiet, strong, sullen man (see: Drive, Only God Forgives, The Place Beyond the Pines, or this movie), or he’s the charismatic, funny, charmer (see: La La Land, The Nice Guys, or Crazy Stupid Love). I don’t really buy it. Not only does this take require you to throw out so much of his work that doesn’t fit into either of these boxes, it also discounts the actual acting he’s doing in a movie like this. Sure, it’s not a flashy performance. It’s not going to get the kind of attention that Bradley Cooper likely will get for A Star Is Born, but that doesn’t make it less compelling, or easier to pull off. There is a precision and purpose to everything he does. There is a restraint on display that serves the character, and for this story, that really worked for me.

I am excited for this to come out on VOD so I can see it again, and I don’t know if my opinion will change, but right now this is where it lands.

2. Black Panther

Ryan Coogler is the man. This is the best MCU film. It is the best MCU villain. It has my favorite MCU score and soundtrack (sorry Guardians), and I was pretty much blown away by it from start to finish.

Sure, at the end, you still have things being resolved through a fist fight of sorts, but everything else is so good that it doesn’t diminish the whole. There is so much happening here that is powerful. Everything serves the greater story being told. T'Challa’s arc is heartbreaking and real. Each character’s experience is some variation on the theme. It’s masterful.

There was the larger theme of isolationism, and nationalism happening in Wakanda, leading to larger explorations of immigration and foreign aid (this is a Marvel movie!), but this was brought to life most powerfully in the experience of two son's relationships with their fathers. So on the one hand you have this larger question of what is Wakanda's role in the world. And almost every character relates to the others in some way around this question. And then the two main characters have to deal with this question through the lens of what their father left behind (or couldn't leave behind).

T'Challa's experience of having such reverence for his father ("Have I ever let you down?" "Never.") to realizing that in at least this area, his father was human ("You were wrong!") was a powerful way to experience the thematic thrust of the movie. Because precisely this issue is what created the villain of the film, played so well by Michael B. Jordan ("Hi, auntie."). His views on Wakanda isolationism and his father-son dynamic flows out of the very same conflict that T'Challa is working through.

This same reflection on the theme is found in virtually all of the important character relationships, and each brings a unique viewpoint that helps us see this issue in a slightly different way. The resonance of the film for me, I think, came from this thematic coherence.

And I haven't even touched on the beautifully crafted action set pieces (Hello Korea). The incredible score and soundtrack. The other weighty topics of true cultural appropriation (in one of my favorite villain introductions ever, "Don't worry, I'll take it off your hands."), or the comment about freedom and slavery as Killmonger pulls the knife out of his own chest, as he experiences his first and last real Wakandan sunset.

Then there is the stellar female characters. People riding Rhinos. The surreal dream sequence of T'Challa compared to the much more grounded dream sequence of Killmonger.

Anyway - this movie came out almost a year ago and people have been saying all of these things and more much more eloquently than I can. Suffice it to say this movie really affected me, and it was my number 1 for most of the year, until I saw...

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse

This movie makes me so mad at Disney and Ron Howard for taking away Solo from Lord and Miller. These guys are story telling geniuses. I feel inadequate to express how much I loved this movie.

It's not only the best animated film this year, it may be my favorite comic-book movie ever. It's the kind of thing that only works because we have a decade of so-so Spider-Man movies, but still. I think I laughed out loud more in this movie than any other. And yet, it also genuinely moved me in several places.

You should probably just wait for the Film Crit Hulk article that breaks down why this movie is so good, but it's firing on all cylinders. The animation is unlike anything else I've seen before. The way it combined static comic-book like images, with more dynamic shots, to how it switched animation styles based on the character or scene.

I loved the characters in the film. I love Miles, I love Gwen, I love both Peter's, I love Spider-Ham, I love Nicholas Cage being awesome, I love Peni Parker, and of course BRIAN TYREE HENRY. The man is the MVP, you already know. I love how they play into the audiences origin story fatigue, especially for Spider-Man. I love how meta and self referential it is. But still, it takes its characters seriously. They have real emotions and are working through real conflict.

Also this movie is just really fun. Every scene seems to be the most inventive and interesting version of that scene. I'm thinking of the meet-cute between Miles and Gwen, or Miles walking on the walls outside of the building, Miles' first meeting Peter B. Parker, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. This movie is just great.

Also I loved the music.

So that's it! My favorite movies of 2018. What were yours?
4 comments on "Favorite Films of 2018"
  1. Kyle - you're the treasure and you know it.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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