And now we’re at the end. I decided to go with the style I’ve been using up to now for 2018, but also feel like I haven’t had enough time to really focus on 2019’s lot, so I’m simply going going to list the films I liked, saw, and didn’t see. Onward.
While I didn’t think that Black Panther was the Best Picture nominee-earning great film that many did, I did enjoy it a great deal, especially in terms of the role it served in setting up the rest of the Marvel films that followed. It is certainly one of the more well-acted, well produced films in the studio’s history, and features probably the most thought-out villains in a comic movie to that point in Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger.
There are a lot of ideas about family and origins here, and those are important to the Black Panther film as a whole, and so in many ways the film works as one of the better stand-alone movies in the MCU.
The action, however, especially in the wider sense later in the movie, didn’t work as well, and the script, after some interesting twists on the comic book standard storyline, succumbs to the stereotypical “final battle” between Black Panther and Killmonger (complete with not so great CGI). Otherwise, there’s no doubt this is a strong addition to the MCU, even if it’s not my favorite.
Definitely going down as the strangest movie I saw in 2018, Annihilation is a gorgeously filmed movie with ideas about humanity and the ways we tend to eat each other alive. While different in particulars compared to its source material, Alex Garland’s followup to Ex Machina keeps the thematic ideas of the book alive.
Much is asked of the actresses, especially Natalie Portman as the eyes through which we see the world of the film, and as the film progresses into weirder and weirder territory, it’s the performances that ground us as viewers.
Even when the visuals are terrifying, they maintaining a hypnotizing beauty, credit to the filmmakers for making weird and horrifying somehow something you can’t take your eyes off.
Isle of Dogs
The works of Wes Anderson are, as I’ve noted throughout this series of blogs, films I often connect with, and I’m especially fond of his efforts in animation, not only with this film, but with The Fantastic Mr. Fox several years earlier. That film is a marvelous retelling of a Roald Dahl book, while Isle of Dogs is an original, thoughtful, and inventive script from Anderson himself.
The energy of the two films is close to the same, however, as is the filming style — which doesn’t stray too far from Anderson’s live action films — and the overall pacing of the movie. And of course there is the usual cast of Anderson alumni providing voices for the film, such as Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, and Edward Norton, along with newcomers like Bryan Cranston and Scarlett Johansson.
It’s an easily likable film about animals who just want to survive and live a better life than they have, but it’s also a spin on the classic “boy and his dog” tale. Anderson adding his own flare to it is absolutely wonderful.
A Quiet Place
I was initially hesitant to see this movie, mostly because I’m not a big horror fan. But word of mouth about the quality of the movie directed by and co-starring John Krasinski was starting to be so good, I eventually ended up choosing to see it during my school’s employee appreciation day at the movies.
It was the quietest I’ve ever been in a movie theater.
As the title suggests, there’s very little dialogue or even more sound in the movie, but the way that sound is used when it is during the film is incredible, to the point that it essentially becomes another character in the film. And while there are tense moments throughout the movie’s running time, it’s less horrific than unsettling, although the more sci-fi nature of the terror does eventually lead to something more akin to traditional jump scares.
But the movie doesn’t depend on those, and it is to its great credit, as the film works because of the performances, especially from Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s wife and co-star, who is dazzling as the matriarch and eventual leader of the family unit.
Even though the film is slightly outside my normal wheelhouse, I am glad I saw it and am looking forward to Part 2 early next year.
Avengers: Infinity War
The lead into this year’s Endgame could have been a throwaway film that Marvel knew everyone would see regardless of how good it was. And so it’s to the great credit of the filmmakers that they took care to make sure that the emotional payoff of Infinity War would actually work, setting up the first act of Endgame.
The coming together of all these heroes could have easily been overwhelming, too, but somehow the script gives time for the story develop as it needs to, and gives each of the vital members of the Avengers to stand on his or her own as needed.
And of course Thanos, the villain that the series had been building toward for years leading up to Infinity War, finally comes into the picture in full and the payoff here is worth the wait. He even gets opportunities to look relatively reasonable in his efforts to wipe out half of the galaxy, even if his actual plan is wildly unnecessary and thoughtless.
The power of Infinity War is how effective it was in setting up the final piece of the MCU puzzle (at least up to that point), and in that regard, it is quite so. Definitely one of the better Marvel movies.
The Incredibles 2
It took a really long time to get this sequel, but it was definitely worth the wait in this case.
Picking off at the exact moment that the first film left off (one of the benefits of animation when a sequel comes 14 years after the original), the second installment in Brad Bird’s series ends up flipping the focus to Elastigirl, who gets noticed by a rich benefactor who wants to be part of the return of Supers to the limelight. But there’s something sinister afoot within his organization, and although Winston Deavor has no idea what’s up, he is certainly among those in question as things get progressively worse.
The turn in focus allows a bigger performance from Holly Hunter as Helen, although all five members of the Parr family play important roles in solving the mystery as it develops.
Sequels don’t always work, but this one does, mostly because Bird was careful not to force a second film out of characters just for the sake of doing it. Pixar is usually good about this, although their sequel rate has increased in recent years. The Incredibles 2 is a prime example of why that idea matters.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Action movies don’t have to be dumb and solely about the set pieces. For most of its existence, the Mission: Impossible series has proven that. Fallout might be the best of the bunch.
Over the last few films in the series, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has started to have adventures that are connected in ways outside of a few characters. In Fallout, that comes to fruition with the return of Hunt’s ex-wife Julia, played by Michelle Monaghan, who initially appeared in J.J Abrams’ Mission: Impossible 3. She has only an uncredited cameo in Ghost Protocol, before featuring more into the story in Fallout.
And her being her is part of what makes this M:I movie work so well. Yes, there are huge set pieces and Cruise continues to push the envelope in terms of doing his own stunts, but there’s also a sense of story connectivity and intelligence about the plots that have been part of the series since after John Woo’s unintelligible second M:I film.
So with Fallout you get exhilaration and intelligence. For me, there’s very little else that makes for a better movie of its kind.
I am not what you’d call a Spike Lee fan. I saw Do The Right Thing in college and while I appreciated what it was, I wasn’t blown away by it. Of his other films, I’ve only seen a one, 25th Hour, along with the playable movie inside NBA 2K16. I think 25th Hour is brilliant, but generally speaking I’ve never felt drawn to any of Lee’s other films.
But once the conversation around BlacKkKlansman started to push toward awards, I knew it was one I’d eventually getting to see, especially once it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Based on what I knew of Lee, I was expecting a very heavy-handed look at the story of a black man who managed to infiltrate the KKK in Colorado because he “sounded white,” but was instead treated to a lively, entertaining take on the story that still conveys Lee’s thoughts about race in America.
Featuring two incredible performances from John David Washington (close your eyes and try not to hear the voice of his famous father) and Adam Driver, along with an uncomfortable but effective turn from Topher Grace as the leader of the KKK, David Duke, the film is nothing if not both immensely watchable and stirringly honest. I didn’t expect to like it, but I really did.
A Star Is Born
This is the movie that probably should have won Best Picture at the Oscars over the pedantic and trivial Green Book. This isn’t to say that this was my favorite film of 2018, just that of the movies nominated (which also included BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Roma, and Vice), A Star Is Born is the best made and the most remarkable of the choices.
There’s so many ways this could have gone wrong. A first time director who is also co-starring in a multi-times remade story, also including a musician who had never acted in a full length movie before, not to mention the complicated nature of both lead roles.
And yet somehow it works so very well. Likely because of so many reasons, including Bradley Cooper surrounding himself with top notch filmmaking talent such as cinematographer Matthew Libatique, co-star Sam Elliot (in an Oscar nominated role), among others. But also because it appears as though Cooper was obsessive enough to tell the story of what obsession looks like and what it can do not only to the person who is obsessed, but to the people around them.
Lady Gaga’s incredibly starring role doesn’t hurt the matter, nor does Cooper transforming into his role as Jackson Maine, as he literally lowered the register of his voice to find the sound of the aging rock star.
I haven’t seen the other versions of A Star Is Born so I can’t say for sure, but I’m not sure how any of the others could compare to this. It’s utterly fantastic.
If Chris Nolan is my #1 director, Damien Chazelle might be in the running for the #2 spot. After directing the whirlwind that is Whiplash in his first feature film, he turned around and gave us La La Land, a modern musical masterpiece. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, he immediately began work on First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong and his fight to become the first human to walk on the moon.
Visually stunning and featuring a quiet but impactful performance from Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, as well as Claire Foy as his wife Janet, Chazelle’s attention to detail as it pertains to the intricacies of space travel is incredible. And the often claustrophobic camera work by Linus Sandgren, who also worked on La La Land (for which he won an Oscar), American Hustle, and shot the next Bond film, No Time to Die, thrusts you almost literally inside the capsule with the astronauts, which is both unnerving and effective.
Sure there are some details of Armstrong’s life that seem to be altered or added in order to create a narrative structure, but this is to be expected in biopics of this kind. But the beauty and overall thematic ideas of Chazelle’s film — which aren’t entirely unlike those of Whiplash or La La Land — makes the movie one of the great cinematic achievements of the decade.
The beauty of First Man is followed by yet another beautiful and, in the end, under appreciated film: Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma.
Financed by Netflix and shot entirely in black and white, the film tells the story of a young woman who works as a nanny and maid for a family in the Roma district of Mexico, who finds herself pregnant. All the while, the family she works for is in turmoil, as the father runs off with his mistress, leaving the mother alone with her children, all in the midst of budding civil war.
Because all of the dialogue is entirely in Spanish, Roma was a movie I couldn’t keep my eyes off of in order to understand what was going on. But Cuaron doesn’t allow you to pull your eyes away from it anyway, even if you have a full grasp of the language of the film, because his cinematic style of long takes, sometimes to uncomfortable levels, such as a hospital scene late in the film.
Miraculously it is spearheaded by Yalitza Aparicio, an unknown actress with no previous screen acting work, who went on to receive an Oscar nomination for her work in the film. She is one of the film’s many great performances, even if the awards recognition wasn’t what it might have been.
The film won three Oscars — Best Foreign Language Film, Director and Cinematography, both for Cuaron, an Oscar first — but it not having won the top prize feels like a mistake the Academy may wish it could undo someday (Green Book wasn’t it, gang).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
On my list for 2018, I have three of the five nominees for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, including this one, the winner of the award.
Frankly, Into the Spider-Verse is unlike any animated film I’ve ever seen. The way the filmmakers combined multiple animation styles into a single story, included humor, heart, and action, along with making a film that works effectively for people of all ages, it’s just wildly impressive. As good as they are, Pixar hasn’t been able to anything on this level before.
The story of the film — which includes multiple Spider-Man types from various universes via a comic portal — is quite clever. But ultimately the intricate plot comes down to figuring out who you are and not trying to be someone else. It’s a simple message, but one that works quite effectively given the nature of the plot.
We’re going to keep getting comic book adaptations for as long as studios keep making money from them. If the studios continue to allow filmmakers to make inventive and thoughtful versions of theses stories like Into the Spider-Verse, that’s quite alright with me.
Saw, but didn’t make the list (*close): Peter Rabbit, Ready Player One*, Deadpool 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ocean’s 8, Tag, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Ant-Man and the Wasp, A Simple Favor, The Sisters Brothers, Venom, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Grinch, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald, Green Book, The Favourite, Vice*
Didn’t see: On the Basis of Sex, Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns, If Beale Street Could Talk, Creed II, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Widows, The Ballad of Buster Skruggs, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Searching, The Wife, Crazy Rich Asians, Christopher Robin, Eighth Grade, Sorry to Bother You, Leave No Trace, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, First Reformed, Tully, You Were Never Really Here, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Tomb Raider, A Wrinkle In Time, Red Sparrow, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, 12 Strong, The Commuter
Saw and liked:
Toy Story 4
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Ford v Ferrari
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Saw, but didn’t like/expected better:
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
High Flying Bird
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Didn’t see (*yet):
Us, Dumbo, Shazam!, High Life, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum, The Souvenir, Booksmart*, Yesterday, The Goldfinch, Hustlers, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, Motherless Brooklyn, The Report*, Parasite*, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood*, The Irishman (technically I’ve seen 2/3 of it)*, 1917*, Midsommar, Frozen 2, Cats, The Lion King, The Lighthouse*, JoJo Rabbit*, Pain and Glory*, Bombshell*, Aladdin, Zombieland: Double Tap, Dark Phoenix, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, It: Chapter 2