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.

mpr

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.

tf

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.

bp

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.

fr

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.

cra

 

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.

cyefm

 

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.

ibsct

 

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.

 

8g

 

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.

 

smitsv

 

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.

aiw

 

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.

asib

 

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.

wybmn

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.

fm

 

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.

LNT.jpg

 

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.

Roma (2018)

Roma

The family’s maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is closer than blood

It should come as no real surprise that a lot of the original films by Netflix are not that good. Some (at least ones I have seen and heard of) are pretty terrible. I would say that Roma is not one of them, but that is a putrid understatement. Here is one of the best films of this or any year, and to say it is not worth seeing because it is not in english or in color would show how shallow you are as a movie goer.

Like many brilliant films, Roma is both simple and complicated. It tells the story of a maid named Cleo (a stellar performance by Yalitza Aparicio). She lives in Mexico City during the 1970s, making her living as a maid for a middle-class family consisting of four children and a grandmother. Something happens in Cleo’s life that she is unsure how to respond to, and turns to the family’s mother Sofia (a rather overlooked performance by Marina de Tavira), who is struggling with the absent father Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Their relationship is one of the corner stones of the film. The rest is worth finding out for yourself, though I will mention that the film’s true star is its director Alfonso Cuaron (whose last film, Gravity, won him the Oscar for Best Director).

Drawing from his own personal experiences, there is an oozing of authenticity in every frame of the film (more on the look of the film in a bit). There is a sense that Cuaron (who also wrote the script) went through nearly pain staking detail in every crevice of the story, making us feel like (at times) we are not even watching something fictitious at all.

Now on to the visuals. This is undoubtably the most beautiful film of 2018, and paints pictures better than anything CGI could even dream of. I admit I was a little surprised to find that Cuaron did the cinematography (I assumed it would be his collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, the three-time Oscar winner of Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant, for 2013-2015). Yet as stated before, he pays close attention to every detail. It reminded me of works from masters like John Ford and Yasujiro Ozu. He even makes a scene of cleaning up dog crap look gorgeous.

Parents, this is not a movie for kids. There is graphic nudity (frontal male), though not sexual, and a good amount of swearing and some violence. High School and above.

There is so much glorious work in this film that I want to talk about but know that it is best for you to find out (there is one scene in a hospital that is more intense than any of its kind I have ever seen). The only bad thing about this being a Netflix film is that it may pressure you to just see the film on your computer (or worse, a cellphone). This movie was made to watch on as big a screen as possible. As my good friend Kenneth said, “Friends don’t let friends watch Roma on a cellphone!”

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I've loved before

There is palpable chemistry between Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo)

There are a good number of rarities that occur in director Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018). Such include teenagers that act like actual teenagers,  well talented acting youths, and a Netflix original that is actually enjoyable (unlike their recent film The Kissing Booth, which I would review if I could ever power myself through the thing).

But back to this film. Based off of a book of the same name by Jenny Han, the movie introduces us to Lara Jean (an extremely lovable Lana Condor). She is entering her Junior year of High School after her sister Margot (Janel Parrish) has left for college, leaving Lara Jean with her widowed dad (the always wonderful John Corbett), her little sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart), and next door neighbor/former best friend Josh (Israel Broussard). I say former not because they grew apart, but because he was the former boyfriend of Margot, so a friendship would be difficult at best.

Since about the pre-teen years, we learn that Lara Jean has kept letters she has written to certain boys she has had crushes on over the years (Josh being one of them). Kitty finds out about the letters and mails them out. This is not because of Kitty being a mean, bratty little sibling. It is because she loves her sister and that love trumps over Kitty not knowing her sister will have a hard time for the near future.

While some recipients are no longer on the table (such as her freshman year homecoming date Greg who is gay, played by Andrew Bachelor), the main drama comes with Peter (Noah Centineo). He was Lara Jean’s first “kiss” during a spin the bottle game in seventh grade, and has just recently broken up with one of Lara Jean’s former friends Gen (Emilija Baranac).  Peter and Lara Jean therefore come up with an idea: pretend to be dating so that it makes Gen jealous enough to take him back. Of course, a couple of ground rules must be put in order (such as no kissing).

While one of the keys of the film is Condor’s screen presence, another is her chemistry with Centineo’s Peter. The main scene for me was in the local diner, where they actually stop “pretending” and have a serious talk (we learn Peter’s dad had left him and has a new family now). That scene made me realize how this movie was going to be much better than anticipated.

One thing that threw me off was I realized there was more romance in this romantic comedy than there would be comedy. That is not to say I did not laugh: much of the comedic lines comes from Lara Jean’s best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur), who is a strong personality to say the least. There is also a great deal of coming of age ness that made me feel some shades of John Hughes. The movie truly digs deep into the realism of those first few stages we feel when it is not just us falling in love, but the other falling in love with us.

Parents, there is some swearing (not sure if I counted any F bombs), and talk of sex. While there is no sex in the film, there is a hot tub scene where two characters are making out and is (minor spoiler) mistaken as sex. I would say High School and above, but maybe Middle School. Maybe.

I am still not sure I like the title of the film. I know it is based on a book (which is in a series), but I just felt the title seems off-putting. Nevertheless, when you consider some of the bad original films that Netflix has (like the awful Irreplaceable You), it makes it all the more reason to state that To All the Boys I Loved Before is truly a diamond in the rough.

 

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

Irreplaceable You (2018)

Irreplaceable You

Abbie(Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman)

” I enjoy hanging with you. It’s interesting. You’re like a slow-moving car crash” – Myron (Christopher Walken) to Abbie.

No, this dialogue from Irreplaceable You is not between the main couple of Abbie (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Sam (Michiel Huisman), which is all that can be said positive about the dialogue. It was at this point in the 1 hour and 36 minute film that I realized it was the best way I could describe this tear-jerker (a Netflix original) that does not generate any tears it so badly wishes we in the audience will supply them.

For the record, the movie does tell us what will happen at the end of the film in the first few minutes (even before the credits role). Therefore, a SPOILER WARNING  as we find out right away that Abbie will have died by the end of the film. END SPOILER.

The film is narrated by Abbie, who has been dating Sam since she sunk her teeth into him on a field trip to the aquarium when they were about 8 years old. So….love at first bite? We learn off the bat that Sam and Abbie plan to be married, since they are about to get the final word from the doctor of what is almost assuredly Abbie being pregnant. Turns out, it is not a pregnancy, but a cancerous tumor.

Ok, I understand that people can face cancer in many different ways (I have seen my share of this with friends and family in my life). I say this because Abbie tries to take it with a smile, still trying desperately to be optimistic. What confuses me is how almost everyone else in the movie is doing the same thing. One such person is the nurse (Timothy Simons)  Abbie talks to while getting chemotherapy. The support group (where she meets Myron) is not much better, as leader Mitch (Steve Coogan) is trying to make all seem relaxed yet allowing members to speak their minds (and a lot of crocheting.)

The movie really goes downhill, though, when we learn what Abbie’s coping mechanism is: Try to find a right girl for Sam to be with after Abbie has died. Again, I understand that a lot of people have their own ways of dealing with tragedy like this, but I could not help thinking that this just seems too wrong and out-of-place. While I felt bad for most of the talented cast, none got more sympathy from me than Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She is truly a talented actor, in dire need of better material than this.

Parents, there is not anything too terrible here for kids middle school and up (besides the obvious melodrama). No real sexual content (aside from kissing in bed, but the characters are clothed). There is a good amount of swearing, however, including a few F bombs.

It is always refreshing to have great movies about romance sooth the hopeless romantic in me. That being said, I am confident I can think of a dozen films off the top of my head that make Irreplaceable You completely replaceable.

 

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

Okja (2017)

Okja

Mija (newcomer Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her pet Okja…

Before I watched Okja, I noticed a number of negative reviews from users on Netflix. The main accusation: It is not for children. I could not agree more, but that does not mean the movie is bad. My conclusion is that those who did not like Okja just noticed the fact that it had a little girl and a (very big) pet pig, therefore thinking it would be a family friendly fare.

The movie begins in 2007, with the head of the Mirando Corporation Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announcing the discovery of making super sized pigs in the effort to stop world hunger. She sends 26 of these pigs to different farm locations on the globe, stating that they will be ready for consumption in ten years.

Fast forward ten years, and we meet Mija (a young and talented actress named Seo-Hyun Ahn), who lives on a farm in the mountains of South Korea with her Grandfather and pet super pig, Okja. It is clear that Mija and Okja are best of friends (their scenes reminded me a little of My Neighbor Totoro).

One day, they are visited by the host of a TV show sponsored by Mirando, Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal). They announce that Okja has been selected as the winner of the competition, and will be shipped off to America. When Mija finds out that Okja will be slaughtered for meat, she rushes after him.

Along the way, we get some rather impressive action sequences (Mija is shown on top of a moving truck), witty dialogue (the truck driver hates his job), and rather stunning imagery. Mija also encounters animal rights activists called ALF (including great actors like Paul Dano and Steven Yeun), who want to put an end to the Mirando Corporation.

Legendary Acting teacher Sanford Meisner said, “Acting is fun. Don’t let that get around.” It can be clearly shown here in Okja. Tilda Swinton, an Oscar winner, is known for picking roles that are considered a little strange and unusual, and while her performance (as well as that of Paul Dano) seemed like it was written for them, I for one was very surprised at the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. He has always been a great actor (underrated, in my opinion), but I never thought he could play the goof ball like he does here, and still make us forget it is him behind the mustache. It is rather brilliant work.

Parents, the TV-MA on Netflix is more than appropriate. Consider the film an R rating.  There is no sex in the film, but there is a lot of swearing. There is also a lot of disturbing imagery (especially at the end, knowing what happens to animals when they are killed for meat). Totally not a movie for kids. High School and above (maybe mature middle schoolers).

One thing about Okja you cannot deny is the originality. If a movie keeps you glued because you have no knowledge of what will happen next, it is because the movie has been completly void of any cliches one would think could happen. That alone is worthy of praise for any movie.

 

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

Sing Street (2016)

Sing Street

The band Sing Street, recording their first song…

 

Over a month after La La Land fever has subsided and the dust has settled, it has allowed me to see a gem of a movie called Sing Street, which would have easily made my top five films of 2016 if I only saw it in time. As of this writing, it is streaming on Netflix.

The film is written and directed by John Carney, who made both 2014’s highly overshadowed Begin Again (with Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, and Adam Levine) and the 2007 masterpiece Once (probably the best musical of the 21st century). Mr. Carney is becoming a name I will now have to always be on the look out for so I can see his movies earlier.

Set in Dublin during the 1980s, Sing Street tells the story of a teenager named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). His parents (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) are at constant war with each other (his mom is having an affair with another man). His music is his only true escape.

Due to money issues, Conor is to switch schools to a new school, under the strict rule of Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley). Despite not being able to afford the required black shoes, Conor must go shoeless instead of wear the one pair of brown shoes he owns (and don’t get Brother Baxter started on guys who wear makeup). It also does not help that he meets the local bully, Barry (Ian Kelly). All this changes when he meets the one girl across the street from the school named Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Even though he is told by Darren (Ben Carolan) that she has no interest in any of the boys in the school, Conor goes and introduces himself. When he finds out she is trying to be a model, he immediately recruits her to be in his band. She agrees, and he must recruit members to be in a band.

What the movie is smart about is that the members of the band actually know about music and have talent, yet still have enough characteristics to tell the members apart. Darren becomes the manager. The first recruit is Eamon (Mark McKenna, who I think looks a whole lot like 1980s child star Corey Feldman), who can play almost any instrument given to him. Eventually, Eamon agrees to playing bass. Then there is Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) as the keyboardist because “he’ll be able to play something: he’s black”. The last two members are Larry (Conor Hamilton) and Garry (Karl Rice), not including Raphina, who becomes the model for the Band’s music videos.

There are two key relationships that Conor has in this film, both of which are undoubtably palpable. The first is with Raphina. If todays teenagers were to see this film (and I would hope they would), they may be envious of the chemistry that Conor and Raphina have. Conor is brave enough to be himself around Raphina, and she brings her motto of life to Conor (and the band) of being “Happy Sad” (she lives in a girls home, and is seeing an older man). She tells Conor (who she likes to call “Cosmo”) to be Happy Sad because that’s what love is.

The other relationship is between Conor and his older brother Brendan (a marvelous Jack Reynor). He is a college drop out, still living at home. He is one of the better big brother characters in recent years. He takes Conor as a pupil as far as music goes (much like the Jack Black character in The School of Rock). He is confident that Raphina’s boyfriend won’t be a problem because, “no girl can every truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins”.

As was the case in Begin Again and Once, the music of Sing Street is stellar, and had me buying the soundtrack the day after viewing. One thing that was not the case was the rating of the movie, which the MPAA actually got right this time. It is PG-13. There is no real sexual content (despite a superfluous awkward view seconds of a women about to use a vibrator), so the film is really rated for its language and some thematic material. Basically, I would say only teenagers and above.

Without giving too much away, all I will say of the ending is that it did end as I expected, but the way I wanted it to. Think how rare that is for a movie viewing experience. I know there may not be a chance of it happening, but I would be so psyched if a sequel would happen (or at least the actors kept the band going).

They need to always get this band back together.

 

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