2018 was not a great year in cinema. But there were a lot of solid films. Here are my Top 10 and a few others worth your time.
My Top 10 Films
1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This is the film I’ll never forget. This documentary wasn’t in 3D. But the emotional response was a 3D experience. Mr. Fred Rogers is a national treasure, and this film reminds us that being kind is not as hard as we might think. This film is a reminder that there is good in the world, and we can be a part of it.
2. The Mule
Clint Eastwood gives us the performance of his life as a drug smuggler for the Mexican cartel. Here is a film that is both a tragedy of character and a metaphor for the career of Eastwood. The film is funny, fast, a full of life. I smiled from cheek to cheek watching the old man have the time of his life. It’s the sequel to Gran Torino we never thought we’d get.
3. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins makes his second masterpiece in this James Baldwin adaptation about being black in America. After winning the Oscar for Moonlight, he creates another masterpiece about a wrongly convicted young black man and the woman who loves him while carrying his child. The film is a visual feast as well as the best acted ensemble of the year.
4. Black Panther & Avengers: Infinity Wars
I’m putting both these films in a tie because neither film would have been as great without each other. Don’t get me wrong, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is a stand alone masterpiece of action and ideas on race and fatherhood, but without that Avenger universe out there, then this film would not have the added weight of higher stakes. Both films also had standout supporting roles. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger and Josh Brolin as Thanos. Watching Killmonger’s rise and fall was both an acting tour de force and a beautiful social commentary, whereas Brolin’s Thanos is a pragmatic monster. His last scene, looking over his creation and being pleased by his annihilation of half the universe was as chilling as anything I ever saw in cinema.
I’ve been a Spike Lee fan for years. Malcolm X. Get on the Bus. Do the Right Thing. Bamboozled. All classics. But here he makes his most mainstream social justice crusade, and in that, he creates a funny, thrilling, complex commentary. The true story about how a black police officer and a Jewish police officer infiltrated the KKK is so wild and yet feels so plausible in Lee’s gifted hands.
6. Green Book
In 1989, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was the film that looked honestly at the current issues of race in America, whereas the best picture winner Driving Miss Daisy looked at race from an older perspective. Both were great films, but with very different objectives. Now 30 years later, and Green Book comes out being compared to Daisy, the same year of Blackkklansman. Yet what Green Book does so beautifully is see the humanity of both men in how they learn from each other in the unexpected ways. Both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali give award worthy performances in Peter “Dumb & Dumber” Farrelly’s sweet film about good people.
7. The Old Man and the Gun
Robert Redford is a national treasure, and this based on a true story movie about an old man who robbed banks without having to use his gun showcases all of his charms. Like Eastwood in The Mule, here is another great sending off performance. In many ways this film feels like a sequel to the life and times of The Sundance Kid.
8. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy is becoming the most inconsistent and interesting actress today. She’ll make a broad comedy that doesn’t click one day and then blow up everything she’s ever done with the next picture, being the genius we know her to be. In this brilliant dramady about the counterfeit collectibles Lee Israel created to pay her rent and feed her cat is so sharp and biting, you can feel the condensation on the film reel.
9. Creed II
In 2016 I named Creed the best film of the year. Creed II is an equal film, but lacked that initial rush of excitement that the first film delivered. But how could this film match the idea of Rocky Balboa training Apollo Creed’s son? This film takes the emphasis off the fight between Adonis and Vicktor Drago, and instead, places it on the multiple father/son relationships. The humanity of the characters created by Sly Stallone is what is carrying this exceptional series through its new saga.
10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brother’s sprawling western yarns delivered the biggest laugh of the year. When the happy go lucky Buster Scruggs defends himself in the opening story by kicking a table so it see-saws up, forcing his hostile gun toting opponent to shoot himself in the head repeatedly, I lost it. In six beautiful, violent, poignant stories the Coens mix in a lot of their trademarks and tricks for an ambitious western worth returning too.
There is usually an award given in film festivals to a film that didn’t make the cut for a top prize but was beloved by the judges. Roger Ebert used to give this out in his top film lists too. This year my pick is HBO’s beautiful and funny documentary Andre the Giant. Watching the great men of professional wrestling share stories and cry about the most famous wrestler of all time is touching and poignant. It’s a must see. Here’s a clip:
Best of the Rest by Category.
The best film not to make my top ten was Bumblebee, a Transformers prequel that is a cross between Stranger Things and E.T....While I wasn’t a fan of Deadpool, I found Deadpool 2 to be a brilliant comedy and gentler film, allowing for more characterization and more gut busting laughs...I’ll admit I wasn’t excited at first about A Quiet Place, but this family-centered horror film about aliens that can hear you and swipe you up before you can scream again is the Get Out of this year.
4 Star Performances/3 Star Films
Many films are anchored by great performances, whereas the plot might be too formulaic. Some such films were Bradley Cooper’s efficient and uncynical music filled A Star is Born, with Lady Gaga and Sam Elliot giving great turns...William Defoe as Vincent Van Gough is pure bliss in At Eternity’s Gate...Ryan Gosling plays the stoic part of Neil Armstrong perfectly in the often cold film First Man, whereas Rami Malek gives a warm and welcome performance with his all in the not too factual Bohemian Rapisdy...But maybe the best acted/thinly plotted film of the year is The Favourite, gives Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Coleman the thickest roles of the year.
Movies that Understand Faith
Christian themed and Christian based movies are very hit and miss, with mostly missed outcomes. But I Can Only Imagine, about the popular song, and Boy Erased, about the evils of gay conversion camp, show people of faith coming to grips with the complexity of life, while also being smart, entertaining films, filled with memorable characters.
I’m Right, Everyone Else is Wrong
Every year there’s a film I love that everyone else seems to hate. This year’s film is Welcome to Marwen, directed by Robert Zemeckis and staring Steve Carrell as a victim of a brutal beating who uses his art to channel his lostness. It’s a messy, ambitious film. But with so fillms taking risks, I have to admire the beautiful message.
I feel that naming a few worst films is not productive. But there were a lot of “disappointments” — starting with Solo in May about a young Han Solo. It was a mess, forcing the Disney studio to re-evaluate its entire prequel model.
Vice is a film that means well, is fantastically acted, but is a broken compass. Christian Bale is a revelation as Vice President Dick Cheney, but director Adam McKay’s script feels disjointed and reads a tad too much like a friend who reads an article on a subject and won’t shut up about it.
Bruce Willis’ remake of Death Wish is just a mess from start to finish. At no point does this film say anything interesting about gun violence, nor does it have any fun with over the top violent set pieces.
Paul Douglas Moomjean Blog's About What's on His Mind
Blogging allows for me to rant when there is no stage in the moment to talk about what's important and/or funny to me.