Top 10 Films of 2018

Top 10 Films of 2018.

As 2018 comes to a finish, I’ve reviewed 79 films this year and now it’s time to narrow that down to a manageable list of the ten movies that you need to see from 2018.

Both Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians were important films to 2018, as the topic of diversity and representation becomes more and more vital. While both these films were enjoyable, they also both had their flaws.

Black Panther made the fictional world of Wakanda come alive, with vibrant and colorful costumes, some incredible fight sequences, and a strong cast of characters. Crazy Rich Asians featured an entirely Asian cast and focused on the country of Singapore, giving us a somewhat predictable story told in an interesting location with likeable characters.

I’m not a diehard fan of Clint Eastwood, I’ve hardly seen any of his older works, but I can tell you that The Mule is an incredible film, with Eastwood both acting and directing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets several nominations come award season.

The only thing keeping The Mule from ranking higher is that half of our story revolves around a crew of federal agents tracking down a Mexican cartel. While this story is interesting, even Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena can’t compete with the powerhouse performance that Eastwood delivers, so we’re always eager to return to his story instead.

I never would’ve imagined that a Transformers movie would crack my top ten movies of the year. Bumblebee is very much unlike the others, managing to give us a personal story, anchored by an incredible performance from Hailee Steinfeld. The visual effects are much cleaner than the past films, giving us action setpieces that you can actually understand, as opposed to the constant swirling of gears that plagued the other films.

While this was a smaller story, it also delivered on enhancing the Transformers mythology, giving us some incredible sequences during the fall of Cybertron, some cameos from fan favorites, and a hope that the Transformers films in the future might take a cue from this movie’s simplicity.

Like a fine wine, Mission: Impossible is getting better with age and this latest installment Mission Impossible: Fallout is one of the series’ best. To learn that Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts is sometimes hard to believe, with the sheer scope and intensity of these stunts on display.

This movie delivers on all fronts. We get some real suspense and mystery, we get some incredible action, and we get a strong performance from our leads. This series continues to set the bar for action films.

It’s a difficult thing to perfectly weave together things that might seem incongruent, but BlacKkKlansman manages to blend sharp comedy with a dark look at racism in the United States, specifically the prominence and power of the Ku Klux Klan.

It works primarily because of the strong performances from John David Washington and Adam Driver, making you laugh one second and cry the next. This movie covers the whole range of emotions and is both a really enjoyable film and a really important film.

It’s rare that a documentary makes my top 10, but this year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a no-brainer for this list. I don’t really remember watching Mr. Rogers growing up, but this movie perfectly outlines who he was and what he did, but where it really exceeds is reminding adults about lessons from our childhood that we’ve forgotten, or lessons that we never learned.

This movie is much more important than you’d think, as you see clips of Mr. Rogers trying to help kids understand intense subjects such as war and assassination and death. It’s a stark reminder of what television has become and what television no longer provides. It’s both a tragic story and an inspiring one.

In the second (of three) Bradley Cooper films on this list, we have A Star is Born. There is a lot that works here, both a foot-tapping musical and an emotional rollercoaster. Lady Gaga’s performance is surprising, while Cooper’s performance is one of his career-best. Cooper’s work behind the camera (in his first directorial effort) is also impressive.

You’ll find A Star is Born to be incredibly satisfying, that you’ll immediately want to re-listen to the songs on your way home, but there’s also plenty of gut-wrenching moments that you won’t soon forget either.

When you pair up two amazing talents, you end up with something like Green Book, a character piece for both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. This story chronicles a black musician (Ali) who travels through the American South with a bodyguard (Mortensen). Both of them give strong performances and the movie is surprisingly funny, with Mortensen carrying most of the comedic weight.

This movie is a feel-good piece in the end, but its tumultuous ups and downs for our characters is an incredibly satisfying journey. I wouldn’t be surprised to see award nominations for both of our leads here.

This is likely my biggest surprise of the year, a movie that I was merely curious about. Searching instead became one of my favorites, a masterful suspense story and mystery. John Cho returns and delivers a heartbreaking performance as a father whose daughter has gone missing.

The real star of this film is the format however, making “found footage” more than the gimmick that it tends to be. We only view things through FaceTime or through the laptop’s webcam or through security cameras or streaming news. It’s all fascinating and incredibly authentic, leading you to believe that this mystery could be unfolding in real life, in real time.

Ten years ago, Iron Man released and kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I know this film may not rank highly for non-fans, but for me, this movie was the culmination (or at least beginning of the culmination) of ten years of excitement and investment. I’ve been along for the ride this entire time and it would’ve been easy for this film to feel like a disappointment or a let-down, but luckily it wasn’t.

The highlight of the film is the humongous cast, bringing together every star that Marvel has. And then, let’s pit them against one of the best villains created in recent years, the completely CGI Thanos, brought to life by Josh Brolin and some near-perfect visual effects. The action is larger than ever before and the movie’s climax is unpredictable and surprising, giving us nothing close to a happy ending.

You may not understand why Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is number one, especially if you haven’t seen it. It’s a cartoon! A superhero cartoon at that! What makes Into the Spider-Verse stand out is that almost everything about it is unconventional. It features an authentic story of a biracial hero, set in a mixed-media animated world, with a storyline focusing on multiversal travel. They took some major risks here and what we get is something unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Let’s start with the animation, the real star of the show. It brings a comic book to life in ways we’ve never imagined and offers some of the most unique action sequences in cinema. Our characters are even drawn in different styles, some in two-dimensional style and some three-dimensional. The soundtrack is perfect, our characters loveable, and you will immediately want to rewatch the film. It’s special, it’s full of heart, and it’s the one movie this year that captured my full imagination.

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Review: Holmes and Watson (2018)

Holmes and Watson.

Let’s get straight to it. Holmes and Watson stars Will Ferrell as Sherlock Holmes, while John C. Reilly stars as his assistant Watson. Together, they’re trying to stop the evil Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) from murdering the Queen (Pam Ferris). They cross paths with a pair of female doctors from America (Rebecca Hall and Lauren Lapkus).

This movie is written and directed by Etan Cohen, whose only major directorial effort before this was Get Hard.

What doesn’t work?

Now, this is a rare movie. It is completely unnecessary and serves no one. I know that sometimes movies have different demographics, that maybe some people might like it. This movie, the closest thing I can compare it to is Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six, that is so unabashedly bad that you wonder if this was a dare.

As a self-proclaimed comedy, I didn’t laugh at all, except for a few moments of “I can’t believe this is happening,” such as when one character was revealed as being raised by feral cats. It’s absolutely bonkers, but not in a way that some people might revel in. It’s bonkers that it does these crazy things but elicits no laughter or response.

One of the main reasons that it’s not funny is that everything feels ad-libbed. John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell are buddies, so of course they’re going to have fun, but this just feels like them goofing around on a set, speaking in a faux British accent and messing around with props. It feels disorganized, unstructured, and what jokes are written down are lazy and amateur.

Overall…

This is debatedly the worst movie of the year, simply because it absolutely does nothing that it was meant to do. As a comedy, the biggest sin is to be laughless, and this movie had no laughs. It’s lazy, it’s messy, and it’s fairly boring. Stay away at all costs.

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Review: Vice (2018)

Vice.

In this loose true story, we follow former Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) as he rises to prominence. We also have his wife Lynne (Amy Adams), who accompanies him on his journey. In government, we encounter George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) and Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). The story starts before he’s involved with politics at all, all the way up to post-9/11 war activities, his role in torture etiquette, and his role in the Patriot Act.

The movie is directed by Adam McKay, who began with comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, but made a new name for himself with The Big Short a few years ago. This movie has a very similar style as The Big Short, including fourth-wall breaking explanations.

What works?

There will be some definite award consideration for a few folks, the most likely being Christian Bale in this absolute transformation into Dick Cheney. It’s not only prosthetics, but his mannerisms and speech patterns are absolutely mesmerizing. Incredible work on display here. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Amy Adams get a Supporting Actress nod, though I don’t think it’s a sure thing. If we do get a second nomination, it might go to Sam Rockwell who also transformed into George W. Bush.

If you’re a fan of politics and “true story” biopics, you’ll likely have a great time here, though it’s definitely filling in some major gaps, including here some moments that no one would know how it really played out, so we’re seeing an embellished and somewhat fictional idea of what happened. Entertaining yes, but not to be completely trusted as fact.

The style of the film is also interesting, very similar to The Big Short. It doesn’t hit the right spot as consistently as that film, but it’s still a fun and engaging movie.

What didn’t work?

As I mentioned above… The style of the film somewhat works but at other times, absolutely tanks the film. There’s a sequence mimicking a Shakespeare play that halted everything. It’s meant to be a jab or parody but it ends up hurting the movie in several places. These moments are jarring, at the least.

Because of this style, the pacing is very inconsistent. This movie feels incredibly long and there are entire sequences that could have been cut and left behind. It tried to maybe include all the big moments for Cheney’s career, but were all those moments important to this film… I don’t think so.

Overall…

As a film, this doesn’t always work. It’s got jarring and unnecessary scenes, it could’ve benefited from a few more cuts. The performances here however are all pretty incredible, highlighted by potentially Oscar-worthy performances by Christian Bale, Sam Rockwell, and Amy Adams. I don’t think you need to see this in theaters but it’d make a perfect calm Sunday afternoon rental for sure.

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Review: The Mule (2018)

The Mule.

Clint Eastwood stars and directs this film, starring as a 90-year-old named Earl Stone who has found himself estranged from his family and now financially broke. In order to make amends, he starts driving drugs for a Mexican cartel (run by Andy Garcia). His wife (Dianne Wiest) and daughter (played by his actual daughter Alison Eastwood) are hesitant to welcome him back, while his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) is a little more willing. While this is happening, we also follow the DEA (Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, and Michael Pena) as they track the cartel and eventually start looking for Earl.

What works?

The performances here are stellar, highlighted of course by Clint Eastwood, who delivers an incredibly subtle performance. I wouldn’t call myself an Eastwood connoisseur, I’ve only seen a handful of movies, but here he delivers something really special and heartbreaking, obviously carrying decades of regret. The other standout is Dianne Wiest, who shows the most emotional range as she struggles with years of built up hostility and also the hope of a happy future. Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena get plenty of screentime but they don’t flex the same sort of acting muscles that Eastwood and Wiest showcase.

The Mule is also beautifully directed, with some incredible cinematography. It manages to make him driving for most of the movie seem interesting and compelling. The movie is a tad long but it never feels long, which is a bonus.

I initially had a problem with the music in the film, but it slowly turned into something I appreciated. The soundtrack was big band tracks and jazz standards and it felt like old timey music that didn’t feel like our time. And then I started to get it, that Earl’s character was also out of time, struggling to use technology and not understanding “kids these days.” So the soundtrack reflected that perfectly, once I understood the connection.

An easy way to lose points in my book, is to mismanage the ending of the film. If you don’t nail the landing, a perfect movie now becomes much less so. Luckily, The Mule has a fantastic ending. Maybe not one you like per se but an excellent ending that makes sense for this story.

What didn’t work?

The movie might feel slow, in the way that all serious dramas might feel slow. It’s jarring coming off of high-octane action flicks, so it’s a transition to get back into that mode. Not a negative, just a note that you need to be mentally prepared for this sort of story and pacing.

Overall…

The Mule is a fantastic film, highlighted by an award-worthy performance by Clint Eastwood. He also might get a nomination for Director, that wouldn’t surprise me either. It’s a slower movie than a lot of other films, but I didn’t have a problem with the pacing, it all felt perfectly timed. The story is gripping, with plenty of suspense, but the core of the movie are the characters.

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Review: Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen.

Releasing in late December, it’s clear that this movie wanted to capitalize on timing and hope for award consideration. Steve Carell impressed people with serious films like Foxcatcher and it looks like this was meant to be his followup and maybe his big Oscar win. However, I can assuredly say that’s out of the question.

The gist.

Mark Hogencamp (Carell) was attacked viciously by a group of men and was nearly killed. Instead, all of his prior memories were lost and he now tries to cope with life moving forward using dolls. These dolls represent people in his life, most notably the women in his life, and he stages them and take photographs in this small town he’s created, the fictional town of Marwen in Belgium, set during World War II. Some of these women include his physical therapist (Janelle Monae), his coworker (Eiza Gonzalez), the woman who works at the hobby shop (Merritt Wever), and his caretaker who buys groceries and medication (Gwendoline Christie). A new woman moves into town (Nicol, played by Leslie Mann) and Mark starts to incorporate Nicol into his scenes.

The movie bounces back and forth between his real life, including the proceedings revolving around his attack, and then the fictional world of Marwen, which often allow him to confront people and problems that he can’t in real life.

This film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, famous for films like Forrest Gump, The Polar Express, Cast Away, and all three Back to the Future films.

What works?

This is based on a true story, which is usually very compelling. The idea of a man coping with tragedy through staged photographs is certainly ripe for a movie. As a trailer, I was really hopeful that this would be a hard-hitting and emotional film. We didn’t get that.

The talent here also tried their best, though some of them get very little to do. Leslie Mann and Merritt Wever get the most to do and both of them do a decent job.

What didn’t work?

Unfortunately this movie falls apart. It starts in the script, with some of these women only having one scene where they appear as real actresses, which is a shame. Instead of focusing on the real world, nearly half the movie is animated, the adventures of these figures. And this world is far less interesting than the real world, surprisingly.

The dialogue is incredibly corny and heavy-handed. The editing is awkward and there are many long pauses between lines that don’t have any sort of effect. A lot of these problems are amateur, that a distinguished director like Zemeckis should have caught at some point before the film released.

And then we have the emotional core of the movie revolving around Mark and this tragedy. This all falls incredibly flat, almost like a parody of what this movie was supposed to be. It tries to tackle pill addiction in a way that is laughable, it has Carell delivering ridiculously over the top antics, failing to really deliver on what the trailers promised.

Overall…

Welcome to Marwen is an interesting idea and that’s really all it has going for it. A few of the leads try their best, but ultimately this film is let down by a flimsy script, corny dialogue, and it mishandles serious tragedy and instead delivers something laughable. If you’re curious, wait until it’s on DVD, but I wouldn’t encourage this film even then.

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Review: Bumblebee

Bumblebee.

The Transformers films have been up and down over the last ten or so years. Each one seems overly concerned with creating massive intergalactic threats that it ended up losing some humanity. Shia LaBeouf has been funny at times, but he’s never been the heart of that franchise. The focus has been on an abundance of Transformers, a whole army of cool vehicles that fight each other in massive battles (in which you can’t tell what’s happening at all). So you’d understand if I were hesitant about this film, after being burned so many times.

The gist.

Bumblebee features the title character, as the home planet to the Transformers is being destroyed. He is sent to Earth by Optimus Prime, though the battle has cost him his memory and he goes into a slumber. He’s found by a young mechanic prodigy named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) who fixes him up, just in time to discover a pair of evil Decepticons have arrived on Earth, while the U.S. government also looks for Bumblebee, spearheaded by John Cena. We also have Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Charlie’s neighbor “Memo” who has a bit of a crush on her.

This movie is directed by Travis Knight, whose only other directing credit is Kubo and the Two Strings.

What works?

I heard hyperbole that this was “the Transformers movie that we’ve been waiting for” and that almost worried me, that my expectations might be too high going into this. Well, let me just say that those sentiments were absolutely spot-on.

I wouldn’t have predicted that a Transformers prequel would’ve ended up as one of my favorite films of 2018 but it’s shaping up that way. This movie works because of its simplicity, something that the other films neglected. It’s really about Bumblebee bonding with Charlie, and then eventually trying to stop some evil Decepticons. The chemistry between Bumblebee and Charlie is spot-on, which is difficult considering Bumblebee can’t really speak. It works because they make Bee incredibly emotive and incredibly likeable, through the smallest of details.

It’s the visual effects that truly bring him to life and it’s likely Knight’s background in animation that allows this film to succeed here. In the other Transformers films, every fight scene looked like gears just whirling and spinning while sparks flew. I could never tell what was happening in the action. Here, the camera zooms out and it lingers. You watch as Bumblebee crashes with these Decepticons, as he escapes from the military. It looks perfect, still allowing for the same liquid nature that allows them to change so seamlessly but it also gives them weight and allows you to see all the details, instead of trying to obscure them.

As the human lead, Hailee Steinfeld also knocks it out of the park. I’ve been a fan since The Edge of Seventeen and she nails it here too. In the intro I referenced Shia, who held down movies 1-3 of this franchise. Steinfeld doesn’t just serve to get Bumblebee from plot point to plot point, but she has an entire story all to herself, revolving around her recently passed father. It’s got some real emotional weight behind it, much more than any other Transformers film delivered.

Now, I’ve referenced the past films a lot. Being better than those films is not much of an improvement. I want to make it clear though. This movie is better than a lot of films.

What doesn’t work?

The only complaint is that the trailers might convince you that this is a huge movie, with the focus on Cybertron and other heroes and villains. Those characters are in it, but don’t go in expecting Optimus Prime to have a big part to play. This is a small scale story about Bumblebee and Charlie, that’s pretty much it.

Overall…

Bumblebee is a touching story, giving a strong arc to both our title character and Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld. It’s one thing to praise Steinfeld’s performance (which is great) but it’s more impressive that they’ve made Bumblebee a sympathetic and likeable character, even moreso than his appearances in past movies. This feels more like Iron Giant than the past films we’ve seen. We have a strong emotional arc here, balanced perfectly with incredible fight sequences and dazzling visual effects. This movie tackles quite a few things and nails all of them. For director Travis Knight, it seems lightning has struck twice.

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Review: Second Act

Second Act.

Life is looking discouraging for Maya (Jennifer Lopez). She’s passed up for a promotion and her relationship (with Milo Ventimiglia) is on the rocks. She has a strong friendship (with Leah Remini) that is tested when Remini’s son creates a fake online presence for Maya, including a fake Facebook profile and a fake resume. This gets Maya a job with esteemed Franklin and Clark, though Maya must convince them all that she belongs and keep her real life secret. A young Vice President (Vanessa Hudgens) starts a competition with Maya, leading Maya to team with an oddball group including Charlyne Yi and Alan Aisenberg.

What works?

This movie really surprised me, in the best of ways. Jennifer Lopez delivers an incredible performance here, diving much deeper than the trailers would lead you to believe. This movie has a strong emotional throughline and many of you (if you’re like me) will get a little teary-eyed throughout the film.

It’s not just an emotional drama, it’s also a fairly successful comedy. The movie smartly spreads the comedic relief out, so if one of the actors doesn’t resonate with you, some of the other comedy might. For example, Leah Remini delivers some killer lines but if you find her character abrasive (which is totally possible), you might instead find Charlyne Yi’s humor more palatable. I was laughing throughout most of this movie’s runtime, much more than I expected.

I also expected a certain storyline, something I thought I could predict, but I have to applaud this movie for a major curveball about halfway into the movie, something the trailers don’t allude to at all. This new plot might’ve also been a tad predictable in how it played out, but it was refreshing that this movie went down a different path.

What didn’t work?

Like I said above, this movie is fairly predictable if you’ve seen any movie with the “people don’t know the real them” conceit. Luckily, this movie executes that conceit much better than some other films in this genre.

I also mentioned above that you might not be into the style of humor that some of our talent here puts on display. Both Leah Remini and Charlyne Yi were hilarious to me, but you may find either (or both) of them to be off-putting.

Overall…

I can strongly recommend Second Act to most people. It’s funny, it’s creative, and it pulls at your heartstrings throughout. Jennifer Lopez delivers one of her best performances and the supporting cast perfectly complements her. If you’re looking for a comedy and think this looks interesting, you should feel confident that it’s a solid pick.

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