The Top 20 Movies of 2018

2018 best

The honorable mentions…

Another great year of movies is in the books.

Toward the end of 2018, I realized I actually was able to see nearly all of the movies I wanted to in time (though there are a few I admit I am still on the look out for).

As was the case for the 2017 list, I decided to make a top 20 list , because numbers 11-20 were too good to ignore. If you really want to cut the list in half, gather all six infinity stones, put them in the infinity gauntlet, and…SNAP! (Too soon?)

 

As the title character in the next film would say, “Off we go!”…

 

20.

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The minds at Disney are no strangers to taking risks, and doing a sequel to the 1964 classic Mary Poppins is one of their biggest risks yet. Still, even 54 years later, Mary Poppins Returns is a success due to new original music, fine performances, two amazing cameos, and the practically perfect Emily Blunt.

 

19.

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There is no doubt that The Favourite will not appeal to everyone, as it has a very dark sense of humor. In time, you will be able to see the film for its witty script and impeccable acting.

 

18.

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As 2018’s highest grossing film, Black Panther was also one of the best critical successes in the history of superhero films. Cultural relevance, sublime action, and wonderful acting were sure helpful, as it may become the first superhero flick to be nominated for Best Picture.

 

17.

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Deep, thoughtful, and chilling are some of the best ways one can describe First Reformed. As many great movies do, it provides more questions than answers. Not to mention Ethan Hawke’s uncanny performance.

 

16.

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In one of the biggest surprises of the year, Crazy Rich Asians told us the story of characters that are relatable and worthy to cheer for. Based off of a book, there are more films to come, of which I am looking forward to with a big smile.

 

15.

 

mid90s

 

In his directorial debut, Jonah Hill’s Mid90s explores the lives of kids growing up in the search of someone to look up to. The result is one of the years most authentic films.

 

14.

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Lee Israel was an author who made money by forging fake letters from popular authors, and the portrayal by Melissa McCarthy of her in Can you ever forgive me? is a revelation (Richard E. Grant is great as well). She has had strikeouts in her film career, yet this is a home run that clears the stadium.

 

13.

widows

 

The heat is on blast in Steve Mcqueen’s Widows, with an all-star cast on the top of their game (led by the always wonderful Viola Davis). Just because it is being somewhat overlooked does not take away from its brilliance.

 

12.

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One of the most human love stories in the last couple years of cinema, If Beale Street could talk is one that may not have the outcomes most are wishing for. They are the outcomes that are the right ones.

 

11.

 

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Newcomer (and Golden Globe nominee) Elsie Fisher shines through all of Eighth Grade, another coming of age story that oozes with real authentic material. Gucci, indeed.

 

10.

 

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Your heart may have been rock solid if it wasn’t feeling warm after witnessing Green Book. Both Ali and Mortensen give Oscar caliber performances, giving us the ultimate bromance of 2018.

 

9.

 

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As of this writing, I have yet to meet anyone I have mentioned Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to come back to me saying it was a bad movie. Believe the hype, for this is the best Spidey cinema has produced, the best animated film of 2018, and easily a post credit scene better than anything the MCU has offered.

 

8.

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Sorry if the above image brings back bad memories, but that is how big of a movie Avengers: Infinity War was. Even before the “snap heard round the world”, the film was unlike any superhero film we have seen before. Endgame cannot come soon enough.

 

7.

hereditary

 

A Quiet place had a nice premise, as did the currently popular (but not entirely great) Bird Box, but no film this year left me with such dread as Hereditary did. This movie will leave a unique bitter taste in your mouth for sometime after the credits, and I mean that as a compliment.

 

6.

blackkklansmen

 

In no way would BlacKKKlansmen have been as wonderful as it was if it weren’t directed by Spike Lee. Only he could do justice to a true story about an African America undercover cop (an awesome debut by John David Washington, son of Denzel)  who joins the KKK. Yes, it gets political, but it is super intriguing.

 

5.

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Having a good directorial debut is one thing, but there is another level that Bradley Cooper is on in A Star is Born. He gives one of his best performances, does the fourth remake of a movie, and lets Lady Gaga show she has more than singing talent. Yeah, expect this to be mentioned more than once come Oscar night.

 

4.

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You can name any superhero you want, but none could hold a candle to the bravery of Fred Rogers, even if he is not completely well-known to kids today. Thankfully, the ever charming Won’t you be my Neighbor? is a chance to remind us not just of the man, but (more importantly) his ideals. A lovely day indeed.

 

3.

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Not since 2013’s Gravity has flying seem so realistic. Damien Chazelle’s First Man, the story of Neil Armstrong (an understated Ryan Gosling) walking on the moon, brings tension and grit to the highest of levels. Months later, the sound effects are still giving me the chills of space.

 

2.

roma

 

I have mentioned how Netflix’s original films are not always great, and while I have not seen all of them, I doubt many can come close to Roma. Director Alfonso Cuaron (director of the previously mentioned Gravity) delivers a passion project that is nothing short of sublime. It may be on Netflix, but the film deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can see it on. Hands down 2018 most gorgeous film (even the cleaning of dog crap looked beautiful).

 

1.

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Throughout 2018, I wrestled up and down between my favorite film of the year, and then I came across a hidden treasure, Leave No Trace. The first film in eight years from director Debra Granik (her last film was the masterful 2010 film Winter’s Bone with Jennifer Lawrence), the simple story of a father (Ben Foster) and his daughter (amazing new comer Thomasin McKenzie) who try to avoid civilization is both heartbreaking and beautiful. It hit me in the feels more than any other film last year. You may not have heard of it, but it is out on DVD, and is more than worth looking for. Scratch that, it is worth buying.

Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman

“Permission to come aboard?”

For the most part, the casting choices in the DCU films have been good (even Ben Affleck as Batman was not a total loss). That is still the case for Jason Mamoa as Aquaman, which is really the only true positive thing to say about the movie. He does make a splash, but the script is down right soggy.

The film does open with an origin story (which is fair, since it is not as well-known as those of Batman or Superman). We see how Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), a lighthouse worker, finds a wounded woman named Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) on the shores. He heals her, they fall in love, and have Arthur. Eventually, Atlanna must return to Atlantis to stop the onslaught on Tom and Arthur after having run away from her marriage to King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren).

Fast forward to present day, and we see a grown up Arthur being visited by Mera (Amber Heard). Turns out that the new heir is Arthur’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who wants to rage war on humans above (you know, for all the stuff we have done to the ocean in the past). One of the kingdom’s long time subjects (and Arthur’s former teacher) Vulko (a nicely cast Willem Dafoe) works behind Orm’s back to prevent such a war from occurring. For Arthur to succeed, he must find the long-lost trident that would prove his worth. There is also the subplot of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), out for revenge on Aquaman after an event at the start of the film.

There are some rather wonderful underground imagery here, but it would be even better if the script had not been so ridiculously predictable. The movie is basically if Thor (or even Black Panther) had lived underwater (claiming a birthright, evil family member villain, etc) . All the fights were nice to look at, but no points in knowing the outcome: you can see it the moment they announce it. By the end, we do get another CGI battle that seems almost off the shelf.

It should also come as no surprise that superhero flicks need a good villain, and the DCU has not been the best at that (though Michael Shannon was good as General Zod and Margot Robbie was really effective as Harley Quinn). Sadly, Patrick Wilson does not measure up, and his villain is nothing short of forgettable.

Parents, the movie should be fine for kids (some swearing and action/violence, but nothing they have not seen in superhero flick before). Middle School and up.

In a year that gave us Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the best was clearly not saved for last (despite some moments I liked, especially where Arthur got his idea of how to use a whale for escape). Still, rather than giving us a breath of fresh air, Aquaman leaves us gasping for it.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

Creed 2 (2018)

Creed 2

Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) stares into the face of the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor (Florian Munteanu).

As in all great sports films (including the 2015 predecessor), Creed II is not about boxing but about development of character. Perhaps the only reason why it is not as great a film as the first is because it is not as fresh, but it still packs a whallop.

The film begins as Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who is having a great year with this and Black Panther) has just won the belt and is more than in his prime. He has proposed to his longtime girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson), whose music career is still going steady (despite the fact that she has in fact lost her hearing due to illness), and both are on the verge of starting a family. Even outside the ring, he is still looking for advice from his mentor/friend Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). There is still a vibrant electricity in their scenes together, filled with humor and heart.

All of this takes a back seat when Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby, who was recently in The Hate U Give) is set to promote a fight between Creed and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the infamous killer of Apollo. There is indeed intensity bubbling on the screen when we see the meeting between Rocky and the elder Drago. Ivan has been an outcast ever since his loss in the fourth film, and needs to win not only the promoted fight, but the respect of those he once considered family.

There is so much emotional baggage going into the ring for the audience (let alone the characters) that it is pretty impossible not to be invested in the action on-screen. Director Steve Caple Jr. handles the script as if it were a Hollywood relic (and rightly so). That is not to say the boxing scenes are boring. Far from it. He is smart enough to handle them with as much care as he does what happens outside the ring as well.

Parents, as long as your kids have seen the original films in the series (except number five), they are fine here. There is one mild scene of sensuality at the beginning, and some swearing (not to mention obvious violence), but I would say middle school and up is fine.

I left the film with one concern: where do we go from here? Topping off this face-off will be a hard act to follow, but one I will gladly pay for in a heart beat.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

2018 Half Time Report

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I am rather surprised that the first half of 2018 has had a rather good share of quality films, nearly breaking the tradition of having mainly bad films in the first half of a year. It actually made me realize that while I can make a top five of the year so far, I could not do a bottom five (for it would include films I actually enjoy).

That being said, such good movies like Deadpool 2, A Quiet Place, Incredibles 2, Ready Player One, and Set it Up did not make the list.

First, the bottom three…

 

3. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

After the nice revival of the series in 2015, we are given this let down. Nice visuals, but way too many plot turns and clichés that make you shake your head rather than nod.

2. Irreplaceable you

It is rather sad when there is a romantic movie that tries hard to bring the tears and fails. Too many characters making choices that are really difficult to relate to, let alone agree with.

1. The Cloverfield Paradox

Credit to the film makers for keeping this project a secret up until the release right after the Superbowl. That is really the only positive I can think of. I have not seen any of the other Cloverfield films, but it still does not hide what a waste of time and money this was.

 

Note: The last two films mentioned star actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I point this out because I wish to say she is talented, and I hope she gets better material soon.)

 

Now the best so far…

5. Isle of Dogs

Leave it to Wes Anderson to, as always, give us as fresh an original movie as possible. It is weird, quirky, funny, touching, and has Bill Murray. So, you know, a basic Wes Anderson film.

4. Black Panther

Easily one of Marvel’s top films, the kingdom of Wakanda gives us some of the best action, grit, and realism we have seen in any action film. All the cast is wonderful.

3. Avengers: Infinity War

As if the previous film were not enough, Marvel then proceeded to give us the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight. Seriously, think of how bad this movie could have been, and yet there is hardly a fault. Regardless of how you feel, there is no doubt of the wonderful, terrifying screen presence of Thanos (Josh Brolin is definitely having a good 2018).

2. Hereditary

This horror thriller reminded me a lot of 2016’s unseen gem The Witch. With a stellar cast (mainly Toni Colette), this film leaves a taste that I have still not fully gotten out of my system. I don’t think I want to either.

1. Won’t you be my Neighbor?

We still have more action packed films (comic book or otherwise) to endure this year, but they did not come much more humble and respected than Fred Rogers (who took me years to realize his first name). A documentary that is sure to bring tears and cheers, it is as necessary a film as the world needs these days. Like Hereditary, it will leave a taste (albeit a much warmer and comfortable one) in your bones and soul that will not leave you (not to mention make you feel somewhat guilty for the parodies Rogers had to suffer).

 

Now to the second half of 2018…

 

 

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War

Thanos (Josh Brolin) shakes the Avengers to their core, as well as the audience.

For the past ten years, Marvel has made (for the most part) solid entertaining movies. It has also been that long since The Dark Knight, which has always been the best superhero movie. Few movies have been any kind of a threat (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther). Now comes the cream of the crop, Avengers: Infinity War. In my mind, The Dark Knight is still number one, but it has been shaken by a solid silver place finisher.

I will be brief, for I would fear of any form of spoilers (there will be none here). If you have seen any of the Marvel films (I know you have), you know there have been six infinity stones in the universe. They are being hunted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), in his quest to bring balance to the cosmos. This is done with the infinity gauntlet, which he can use to wipe out half of all living things, with a snap of his fingers.

That is as far as I will go. Standing in his way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans),….ok, basically everyone in every Marvel movie except for Ant-Man and Hawkeye (that was easier).

Remember Spider-Man 3, when there were too many characters and story lines? Well, Infinity War has only one real story line and one villain. Nevertheless, all the star players are not only here, but needed. Afterall, that is how hard it is to defeat a guy like Thanos. The first ten minutes alone prove my point.

Credit also must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Each character is given same amount of screen time, but the right amount of it. Kudos to the actors for remembering the old rule: no small parts, only small actors.

Speaking of which, there is even a role for Peter Dinklage. I mean that transition not as a put down joke, but from the heart. There is no doubting the man’s talent.

Parents, I was about to say it is like any Marvel movie, but, to be fair, there are a lot of darker moments. That is all I will say. Middle School and above.

That is all I will say, because this is not a movie to read about. It is one to experience. And what an experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America Civil War

The Captain leads Falcon, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlett Witch, and the Winter Soldier.

After the disappointing two plus hours of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Marvel comes out swinging with Captain America: Civil War. Well, more than swinging. Let’s just say swinging, flying, pulse ray blasting,…you get the idea.

This is easily the best superhero flick since Guardians of the Galaxy. Like that film, Captain America: Civil War was a film I was not expecting much from (the first two films were good, but not great). Star Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam Wilson/Falcon, descibed it best when he said it is like “The Avengers 2.5”.

Sure, the movie runs at 2 hours and 26 minutes (the longest Marvel film to date), but even that was not a big hinderence for me. The film starts off with Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and a few of the Avengers accidently causing damage again to innocent lives while pursuing the evildoers. Enter the Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), who tells the Avengers they must now be under control by the U.N. or to “retire”. This leads to certain Avengers going one way and some the other way. It basically becomes team Captain versus Team Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., who proves again here he may be the best cast actor for any superhero in movie history).

Eventually, the Captain realizes he may still be able to save his old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who is also the winter soldier. He is being controlled by Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). While that storyline is nicely done (and surprisingly easy to follow), the best part of the film is the conflict between the good guys, and there are a lot of them. Missing from the action this time is the Hulk and Thor, but we still have characters such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany) Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Ant-Man (the always lovable Paul Rudd), and new comer Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Everyone will have their favorite to root for, and mine was such a clear favorite I feel he deserves his own paragraph. For the third time, we have another actor playing Spider-Man, but this time, it is a very young one. Tom Holland (who I became a fan of the moment I saw him in 2012’s The Impossible), in an all star cast including a good amount of past Oscar nominees, is the scene stealer. The new Spider-Man film can’t come soon enough.

Parents, the movie is long, and a little violent (though not as violent/dark as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was). Still, if your kids have seen at least one other Marvel flick, they should be fine with this one.

I am aware some people may be making references to the politics of today. I personally did not really care to do so (that is a whole matter by itself). I said the loser of the fight of Batman against Superman was the audience. In Captain America: Civil War, the audience is the clear winner. This is one of the best films of the year.

Overall: Four Stars ****