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10 of the best films I saw in 2018

Look, definitive Top Ten lists litter numerous webpages and blogposts this time of year, and I normally deviate from rankings and scores anymore on the subject of a film’s merit- however, I will write here about ten of the films that caught my eye (and heart) this year at the theater; it’s just a nice round number to work with. I didn’t see all of the films I wanted to (like every other year) and if I catch one later I’ll write up a review if I found it noteworthy. I suspect “Eighth Grade” and “Upgrade” will get this treatment in the new year. Last year I made an effort to get to older films that I’ve either neglected or just missed entirely, classics that I needed to check off of lists, and the occasional odd pick resulting in a new favorite (Here’s looking at you “Stalker” [1979]). So, it was a strange and fascinating year of movie watching for me. *Most, but not all (MI6 Fallout & Spider-Verse), of the films listed below have received their own movie reviews over the course of the year so if you’d like a more in-depth discussion take a peek through my 2018 reviews and check them out!

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. “Infinity War” was the culmination of a decade of Marvel Studio’s Cinematic Universe, eighteen movies of interconnected storytelling resulted in the ultimate payout for both longtime Marvel fans and execs. Thanos proved he had more tricks up his sleeve than just a space throne and profoundly undid the expanded universe with a snap of his fingers. Even with all of the combined might of these comic-book characters, it wasn’t enough to stop the Mad Titan. If you, somehow, still haven’t seen this movie, get on it! “Endgame” is mere months away and you’re gonna want to be caught up for the second part of “Infinity War”.

ISLE OF DOGS

Wes Anderson’s latest foray into stop motion animation was simply a delight. Filled to the gills with celebrity voice actors, some Anderson faithfuls were present, however there were some new additions to the quirky symmetry loving director. From Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton to Frances McDormand and Yoko Ono the voice cast imbued the whimsical production with an extra layer of indelible charm. The film’s story is about breaking down the barriers of communication with a tale of a boy, Atari, and his lost dog, Spots. Set in the not so distant future of Megasaki City ‘Dog Flu’ sweeps through the city and swift legislation is ordered condemning all canines to be quarantined on trash island off the coast of Japan. Atari sets out to trash island to find his dog Spots and discover the mystery behind the mass migration of mutts. I recommend this one to anyone fascinated by animation or especially stop-motion animation, it’s a beautifully crafted film and the story it sets out to tell is pretty fun!

ANNIHILATION

This was one of the smartest and strangest sci-fi films to come out in years. In the opening of the film, a meteor crashes into a lighthouse in southeast North America and emits a strange and ever expanding phenomena. Naturally, the Government ascends upon the affected area and labels the abnormality The Shimmer. After a few years of failed Military efforts the Feds finally send in a scientifically minded team consisting of five women. Lena (Natalie Portman) is recruited after her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns to her after being sent into The Shimmer months prior in one of the many Military missions. He is the only person to have returned from The Shimmer. Equal parts horrific scientific exploration and beautiful abstract mystery, “Annihilation” is one of the most cerebral and original sci-fi films in years and you owe it to yourself to check out this slow-burn Lovecraftian horror.

SUPER TROOPERS 2

The comedy sequel is a hard sell. Especially for a cult classic like “Super Troopers“, but even more rare is the comedy sequel that excels past the quality of the first film and improves on what worked in the first place. “Super Troopers 2” is such a rarity. The long gestating bookend from Broken Lizard may have taken 17 years to realize, but it’s one that was well considered. The movie reunites the Vermont State Troopers as the transition team that oversees a section of Canada being turned over to the Americans after a few ancient documents revealed the border to be incorrect. Naturally this gave Broken Lizard the opportunity to have an assortment of Canada vs America jokes veiled in a film that cleverly retraces the first film’s steps while sidestepping the faults with that film’s story structure. This is one of the best comedy sequels out there, if you enjoyed the first one, odds are you’ll have a good time with this one too.

HEREDITARY

Ari Aster’s directorial debut was one to remember. I’m not the most likely person to suggest a horror film, but when there’s an overwhelming chorus of people pouring praise on such a film- well, then I had to go see it. This film is very good. I don’t know how soon I’ll see it again, but that’s mainly because it turned my own house into a creepfest for a good two weeks this last year. This horror film is slow, it doesn’t hold your hand, and it doesn’t fully reveal the plot’s underpinnings until the very last scene and it’s all the better for it. Toni Collette should receive awards recognition for her work here as it is both spellbinding and horrific in the best way possible. Check this one out if you have the patience for some good scares!

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6: FALLOUT

Who knew that the “Mission Impossible” franchise would get better with each installment (with one notable exception)? The plot is almost unnecessary at this point, though still fine in this film, we’re just here to see Tom Cruise risk his life doing crazy insane stunts for our amusement. This film definitely delivers on that front, he learned how to fly helicopters for the third act, broke his ankle jumping between rooftops, and completed over 100 Halo jumps in preparation for this film. Throw in a mustachioed Henry Cavill for good measure and you’ve got yourself an excellent action spy movie that adds fuel to the “Mission Impossible” franchise.

Left to right: Emily Blunt and John Krasinski in A QUIET PLACE from Paramount Pictures.

A QUIET PLACE

This film earned it’s place on my list this year purely out of shock at how damn thrilling it was. I saw this film on its opening night on a whim and I was rewarded heavily for this game of chance at the theater. The concept was perfect, the shots and dialogue were lean and efficient, and the surprise masterclass execution of suspense was outstanding. The film is a tight white-knuckle exercise in how quiet a theater full of people can get- the crowd I was with was a sold out group of loud, chatty, people of all ages eating snacks and loudly laughing during the previews, but after that first scene the room went silent and the only audible sounds from the audience for the remainder of the film were gasps and quiet murmurs of exclaimed expletives.

HALLOWEEN (2)

Working as a direct sequel to the original slasher film in John Carpenter’s “Halloween“, this film had a lot to live up to. Earning the blessing from Carpenter went a long way to assuage my own suspicions before seeing the film. This sequel/reboot brought back Jaime Lee Curtis and Nick Castle and stitched together a highly entertaining new film in the franchise. The filmmakers made Michael legitimately scary again, and they skillfully crafted the present day Haddonfield to be the serial killer’s playground once more. Jaime Lee Curtis killed it as a paranoid, and simultaneously broken and stronger, Laurie Strode. While there are small hiccups that deviate a bit from the overall mood, I thought this was an excellent horror film and I can’t wait to see it again!

CREED 2

While not quite as phenomenal as the initial outing, this sequel delivers a thrilling journey for the son of Apollo. The only nitpick, if I can even call it that, I have with the film is that some of the cinematography wasn’t quite as immersive as Coogler’s “Creed“. That being said, this film has a better villain in the son of Ivan Drago, Viktor. The story further evolves all of the returning characters in nuanced ways, but especially concerning Ivan and Viktor Drago. The fights are visceral, the losses were shattering, and the montages stayed as galvanizing as ever. If you’re a fan of the “Rocky” franchise, this is fine addition to the legacy.

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Having already seen three live-action Marvel movies, “The Incredibles 2“, and trying to fit in a potential “Aquaman” viewing before it leaves theaters this year- my bar was fairly high for the super-hero genre walking into the theater this time. Which is why I was so massively impressed with “Spider-Verse”. Not only is the hybridization between Pixar-level 3D-Animation and the natural hand drawn flair outright impressive, but the storytelling skill on display far exceeded my expectations. The team-up between the two core Spider-Men in Peter Parker and Miles Morales was vastly entertaining and surprisingly moving. Pile on four more “Spider-People” from other comic-book universes and any other story would have been overwhelmed and chaotic, but this film cut through the fat and produced a pitch-perfect, brilliant, animated film.

Honorable Mentions: “Mandy“, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs“, “Best F(r)iends Vol 1

MOVIES I MISSED IN 2018:

“EIGHTH GRADE”, “UPGRADE”, “IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK”, “THE FAVOURITE”, “lOVE, SIMON”, “SEARCHING”, “WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?”, “PADDINGTON 2”, “GREEN BOOK”, “ROMA”, “BLINDSPOTTING”, “FIRST MAN”, “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU”, “THUNDER ROAD”, “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”, “SHOPLIFTERS”, “MARY POPPINS RETURNS”, “CRAZY RICH ASIANS”, “BURNING”, “BUMBLEBEE”, “SUSPIRIA”, “AQUAMAN”, “TULLY”, “VICE”, “THE MULE”, “THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN”, “THE SISTERS BROTHERS”, “GAME NIGHT”, “RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET”, “THE GRINCH”, “BLOCKERS”, “THE HATE YOU GIVE”, “LET THE SUNSHINE IN”, “NIGHT COMES ON”, “A SIMPLE FAVOR”, “A STAR IS BORN”, “VENOM”, “THE TALE”, “THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT”, “MADELINE’S MADELINE”, “COLD WAR”, “THE DEATH OF STALIN”, “YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE”, “LEAVE NO TRACE”, “THE RIDER”, “THE NIGHT COMES FOR US”, “WIDOWS”, “PRIVATE LIFE”, & “FIRST REFORMED”

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Superbowl 2018 Movie Trailers

Yesterday five movie trailers aired during the Super Bowl that were especially fun. Some of them were entirely new, while others were new teasers or new cuts of trailers that helped to sway me personally into giving several of these films the benefit of the doubt, even through all the exploding volcanoes and starships.

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Mission Impossible 6: Fallout

Ever since the fourth Mission Impossible, Ghost Protocol, the series has continually edged upwards in quality for me. This new Mission Impossible looks to turn expectations upside down with Ethan Hunt and company going against their former agency in the IMF? Plus there’s the new addition of Henry Cavill who should be an exciting new factor thrown into the mix. We’re also retaining writer-director Christopher McQuarrie for a series first, Rogue Nation was an excellent film so I cannot wait to see how they step up the stunts from previous entries in the series!

 

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Avengers 3: Infinity War

Infinity War has been a long time coming in the Marvel Studios Universe, it will be the nineteenth film in the interconnected saga and will include all of the major characters from across all of those films. Naturally not much is known outside of the initial trailer besides rampant fan speculation but this new teaser gave us precious seconds of new shots to drool over and analyze until May, but hey, you don’t need to do much to sell tickets to this event film at this point.

 

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

We finally got a (teaser?) trailer for the Han Solo standalone film, and it did enough to sway me towards a more positive outlook on the upcoming release. While we might not have asked for a Han Solo film, it’s nice to get to play around in the sandbox of the Empire’s early reign over the galaxy again. We didn’t see much, but we did get confirmation that the overall plot from the original expanded universe detailing Han’s origins in the Empire before he turned coat and became a smuggler was seemingly on track. We got quick shots of Woody Harrelson’s mysterious mentor character, Donald Glover’s sly Lando Calrissian, and of course- Chewbacca. We’ll see if this movie turns out to be worthwhile in the end, but hey, I’m always ready for another adventure in this universe, hopefully it will be a positively memorable one.

 

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Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom

This trailer did a lot to turn me around after that awful cut the first time around. The first Jurassic World worked for me in concept and in practice. That film made sense as a sequel, and we’ll see how this film turns out, but not focusing solely on the volcano scenes helped a lot. If that had been the whole story I wouldn’t have bothered, but here it looks like a combination of Lost World with a sprinkling of the original’s texture thrown in, so we’ll have to wait and see if it was worth our time and money- but this trailer did put me into a more positive and hopeful mood for the sequel.

 

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Skyscraper

Another year and another Dwayne, the Rock, Johnson action film bursts onto silver screens across the country. This time around Johnson looks to be a war vet that designs buildings, but when everything goes wrong he has to pull it together and save his family on the 240th floor of a burning building. There’s a lot of standard action beats here but the trailer was cut for maximum tension while maintaining the heightened reality of Johnson’s action movie repertoire and that works for me. Johnson can sell a movie no matter how ridiculous it may seem, hell, I never thought the Jumanji sequel was going to work out but in the end I really enjoyed it! I might just have to give this flick a shot when it hits theaters this summer.

 

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Dundee: the perfect tourism ad

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly disappointed that this isn’t a real film, but it was a great idea for a tourism ad! The reveal doesn’t even happen until Danny McBride notices that Chris Hemsworth keeps talking up the beauty of Australia, which was brilliant by the way. We even got Paul Hogan to put on the old costume and playfully poke fun at rampant and excessive love of Australia that America experienced in the 1990’s.

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Favorites of 2015

2015 was another excellent year for the film industry! Cars, Dinosaurs, Spies, Emotions, Space, Robots, and Boxing! Last year had all of those genre regulars and more, especially the spies, we had a great many antics within that realm. Here though is where I take a moment to zone in on all the films that I believe earned high praise. These aren’t Oscar picks, nor are they the films I think that are “The Best”, but rather my personal favorites of 2015, aka the Future.

Ex-Machina

Between the Avengers sequel, Chappie, and this lovely little film by Alex Garland you might sense an anxiety about artificial intelligence in the cultural Zeitgeist. This film is the best out of those three and not because of any special effects, although it does look good when it has to, but because of the ideas it introduces and leans on. The story centers on Genius Mastermind Nathan Bateman’s (Oscar Issac) latest creation, artificial intelligence, and the turing test administered to said creation by an employee of Bateman’s tech company in the form of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). Alicia Vikander’s performance as the savvy AI Ava is the masterful centerpiece performance that the axis of the story pivots on throughout. A smart psychological thriller worth falling in love with.

Kingsmen: The Secret Service

I went into ‘Kingsmen’ not knowing what to expect, it is from this point that I benefitted from most. It was unexpected , high octane, gleeful action snazzed up in a fine suit and cufflinks. With a nicely fleshed out cast surrounding the new talent ‘Kingsmen’ took the spy movie to a memorable new place, and in a year when both Mission Impossible and James Bond earning  entries in their respective pantheons, that is no small feat. Taron Egerton stars as the young street level inductee into the british spy organization known as, you guessed it, The Kingsmen, a highly refined and hyper violent group that saves the world while looking exceptionally dapper. Watch for the Church scene, it’s a bloody affair. This is  strong kinetic action in a new property that knows its place in the world of genre fair spy films, and it revels in it.

What We Do in The Shadows

Easily my favorite comedy of the year, ‘What we do in the shadows’ utilizes the mythology of The Vampire to spin pure comedic gold. Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav ( Taika Waititi, Jonny Brugh, & Jermaine Clement) play three vampires, all born and from different time periods, that all room together in the same house in New Zealand and squabble with each other over things like rent obligations, chore responsibilities, getting into nightclubs, and squashing conflicts among themselves. Done in a mocumentary style in which a film crew follows the vampire gang around filming their everyday lives. I found it to be a pun and wordplay laced riotfest throughout the runtime. Genius comedy filmmaking in a unique style and voice.

Mad Max: Fury Road

What can I say about ‘Mad Max: Fury road’ that hasn’t already been said? It’s grandiose. Gorgeous. Brutal. Spectacular. Intense. Gritty. Pure Fun. If you somehow haven’t seen this film yet, you need to. Point blank. It’s that simple. Need more? It’s the best car chase sequence in film history and its oddly, and beautifully, feminist in its nature. With the addition of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa the decades old series has roared back to life, even without the original Mad Max himself, Mel. Tom Hardy played Max in a gruff and tortured turn and it worked better than expected. George Miller has made a ground breaking Mad man’s masterpiece in his seventies, we should all be so inspired.

Turbo Kid

This film is the bloodiest entry on my list. It’s also the most heavily 80’s inspired piece as well. ‘Turbo Kid’ is an independent flick that takes place in a radioactive wasteland version of an apocalyptic future… in 1997. The toxic tale follows our young and lonely protagonist (Munro Chambers) as he takes on a tyrannical one eyed overlord, Zeus (Michael Irondside), to save his newly acquired, and bombastically enthusiastic friend Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). There’s saw-blades and fountains of blood, bicycles chase sequences, and a cowboy with a robotic arm. It’s weird and self aware, and a lovely unique film, check it out!

Dope

This story is about well meaning misfits Malcolm, Jib, & Diggy (Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, & Kiersey Clemons) as they navigate the end of their High school experience in modern day Los Angeles. As self proclaimed geeks that are in love with 1990’s hip hop and culture the three are fleshed out, layered characters that get caught up in outrageous scenarios. Malcolm in particular is the character we follow most closely as the story progresses. As life in a tough neighborhood has its own challenges Malcolm has his sights set on gaining higher education admittance, he just has to survive with his friends until graduation. The message of the movie lays out nicely over the course of the story and admittedly, I might be partial to coming of age storylines if done well, and this film definitely falls into that category. This won’t be the last time you see the three leads, they each ooze charisma were all a joy to see onscreen.

Inside Out

Pixar hit another homerun with ‘Inside Out’. It’s instantly memorable and heart wrenching. Only this studio could take such a concept and make it so relevant to the inner child in each of us. We follow Riley, a young girl that must navigate the new challenges of life in San Franscisco after her family moves to the west coast from the wintry Midwest. Riley’s emotions, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, & Disgust all vie for the best method of handling these new hurdles in life. Learning concepts like ‘It’s okay to be sad’ and ‘Life has ups and downs, we all just learn to live and make the best of it with a healthy mindset’. It’s a brilliant film with a stellar voice cast to round out a profund idea with Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling.

Jurassic World

I may get some flack, maybe even lose some credit for having this film on my list for some, but I can’t help the fact that I absolutely loved this film. Is it perfect? No, not at all. Is it better than the original Jurassic Park? No, absolutely not! But it IS a very fun monster movie with a super predator hunting our heroes. I quite enjoyed the antics of Owen and Claire (Chris Pratt & Bryce Dallas Howard) as they tried to retrieve and save Claire’s nephews from the Indominus Rex. Like I said, I recognize that some characterizations were slightly cartoonish to say the least, Vincent D’Onofrio’s villainous character for example has hilarious motivations, using Raptors for Military use? If you thought a Dino theme park was nuts then strap in, it gets a little nuts. It’s just great to see dinosaurs in movies again.

Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation

Who knew Tom Cruise had this revival of the last few years in him? After a resounding return to form in the fourth Mission Impossible the lastest doesn’t quite live up to Ghost Protocol’s standard, but its an incredibly enjoyable return to the Impossible franchise. As in both Rogue Nation and this year’s 007’s Spectre the plot centers around our hero spy taking on a shadowy organization on a globe trekking scale with plenty of action, intrigue, charm, and huge set pieces. If you want a solid spy movie, this might be the best of the year,  which is saying something in a year when the genre exploded with numerous unique attempts.

Creed

My personal favorite of the year, ‘Creed’ is the story of Adonis Creed, son of famed Rocky Balboa opponent Apollo Creed, as he comes to terms with the legacy of his father and shaping his own future going forward. Stallone shines again as the Italian Stalian in one of the best performances he’s given in years and Michael B. Jordan deftly crafts Adonis as a hungry and determined personality that snaps and crackles with potential in his punches. The beauty of Rocky’s story coming full circle as he trains Adonis in the ring coupled with exquisitely shot fight sequences in and out of the ring ties everything together incredibly well in the end, the film doesn’t even feel like it should have the right to be this good. There isn’t a single shot I would change, and I find it a disappointment that Ryan Coogler wasn’t nominated for Best Director for this film, he deserves it.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars. Modern Mythology at its finest. The Force Awakens did exactly what it needed to do following the somewhat disastrous prequel films of the early 2000’s. It brought back memorable characters, like Chewbacca & Han Solo, scenery and aesthetics from the original films, and established new fan favorites in Finn, Rey, and Poe (John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, & Oscar Isaac). We also got new villains in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke, the overlord of the new evil regime The First Order. Granted, this isn’t the best Star Wars movie, it’s just a really satisfying entry in the saga that never ends.

Hector and The Search for Happiness (2014)

Lastly, here is where I cheat a bit. Technically yes, this film came out in 2014, but I didn’t even know of its existence, much less watch it, until 2015. This film has one of the qualities I love most about movies: It’s got an earnest positivity about it that doesn’t quit. I also have a tendency to love films that involve Simon Pegg. ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ is about Hector (Pegg), a psychiatrist in Britain that feels unfufilled by the doldrums of his overly regimented life. He laments giving people advice while not yet having lived life himself. Thus he goes off on an international quest to find the formula to Happiness. Is it a particularly challenging film for the viewer? No, not really, but that’s okay. It’s a tale meant to uplift, and maybe I’m a shmuck for it, but this film made me feel things, and I love it because of that.

Potential Contenders that (somehow) I missed: Straight Outta Compton, The Revenant, The Big Short, Spotlight, Sicario, The Danish Girl, Trumbo, Brooklyn, Peanuts, Spy, Trainwreck, Sisters, Joy, Chappie, & Concussion

Those are the films that affected me most over the course of 2015. It was a uniquely stellar year in which Hollywood learned that some franchise returns can yield Box Office smashing results like Mad Max, Jurassic World, and Star Wars. However they also learned that some franchises don’t soar as high as they could or should, here’s looking at you Terminator Genisys and 007’s Spectre. Let’s Hope this year holds as many gems, if Deadpool is any indicator it’s going to be a weirdly amazing year. Go see Deadpool if you’re old enough, it’s a bloody riot in the best sense. Then see it again.