Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Flashback: Movies

Well, it's that time of year again! As we prepare to dive deep into the disquieting politics and potentially great pop culture of 2019, it's time to take a look back at the 2018 that was! Here's the best and worst of the year in movies, music, and TV, at least in my eyes!

As always, it's important to remember that this is just my opinion, and if I've omitted any of your favorite things, maybe use this as an inspirational moment to create your own list! Also, making any sort of Worst list is a wonky prospect, so I want to state ahead of time that I don't seek to detract any particular person involved in making projects, and that these opinions merely reflect my personal tastes and aren't categorical denials of any film's worth.

Without any further ado, please enjoy!


The Ten Best Films of 2018

#10 Game Night

It's the first Hollywood comedy in a long time that actually has a script, for one thing. But it also assembled a superb ensemble cast of veteran performers (Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams) and hilarious new blood (Billy Magnussen, Jesse Plemons in a role I'd call a breakout if I hadn't already seen Other People), and as a cherry on top is actually directed, with a visual style that apes the eye-in-the-sky view a family might have over a game board. It's a thoroughly thought through and developed comedy, something that we deserve and haven't seen in a long, long time. Oh, and it's funny too. That matters, at least a little bit.

#9 Ideal Home

We're still in comedy mode, but it's time to shift from big budget Hollywood to low budget indie. Ideal Home stars Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan as a gay couple whose bickering is interrupted by the arrival of a child Coogan never knew he had. Things go about as predictably as you'd think, but the cast is game, and the movie is gently comic in a very endearing way, like settling into a warm bath. The bitterness of their relationship is an unusual and fun element that cuts this otherwise sweet and tender comedy with some edgier material that makes you sit up and take notice. Also Paul Rudd is hawt.

#8 Black Panther

Not a lot of Marvel movies make their way onto these lists, but Black Panther isn't like a lot of Marvel movies, at least in a few very specific ways that count a lot. Drawing its aesthetic influence from afro-futurism, the look of the film is completely unique, bringing big budget gloss to a subgenre of art that has never been this sumptuously mounted. Plus, Michael B. Jordan turns in a career best performance as the only villain in the long-running MCU you might actually agree with.

#7 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

I love me some Mamma Mia!, but I must say the last thing I was expecting from this decade-later sequel was that it would actually be good. Oh, it's certainly some cotton candy fluff with no nutritional value and a plot so thin you couldn't even use it to floss your teeth. But it's in the hands of a director who actually knows what the hell to do with a camera (the first time it moved, I was physically shocked - this just doesn't happen in a Mamma Mia! movie!), actors who can actually carry a tune, and a soundtrack compiler who got to cherry pick from the best of the ABBA B-sides. And my friend, there's a lot of "best" when it comes to ABBA B-sides.

#6 Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

Jesus, two Marvel movies? Have I gone mainstream? Well, at least this one is as far from the MCU as can possibly be. Somehow the studio that gave us Venom took a look at their Spider-Man universe and decided they should probably do something more to prove themselves, delivering a delightful superheroic flick. You could have just opened up the world by positioning Afro-Latino hero Miles Morales at the center and called it a day, but they also had to deliver the most visually stunning CGI animated experiment in a decade, bringing the color scheme and dot pattern of classic comics to stunning life in a psychedelic, sublime light show.

#5 Paddington 2

I'm ready to make the Paddington movies my religion, because this film makes me actually believe in a being made of pure, unadulterated love. This film, which is like Wes Anderson ate too many candy apples and threw up a kids' movie, is a delightfully stylish romp through London where our titular bear makes everyone's lives better along the way (including but not limited to the always great Sally Hawkins, who turns in a legitimately Oscar-worthy performance). Also, it's ever-so gently but ever-so persistently anti-Brexit, anti-prison industrial complex, and pro-marmalade. It's got heart, it's got brains, and it's got guts. What more could one want or need from a motion picture?

#4 Support the Girls

Support the Girls
 takes the quotidian routine of the manager of a Hooter's-esque restaurant (played to a T by Regina Hall) and spins it into an emotional odyssey of grand proportions. Come for the inside look at how a T&A restaurant runs, stay for the gripping personal journey of a woman who is going to do her goddamn best to make sure everyone she loves is taken care of, against all odds.

#3 Eighth Grade

Between this and Lady Bird, I wouldn't mind if every year from now on we had a startlingly well-observed coming-of-age dramedy starring a young woman with the audience wrapped around her little finger. Here that young woman is Elsie Fisher, who gives a performance so nuanced and so adept at being crushingly awkward that you find her irresistible and yet understand deeply exactly why the world at large might not agree with you, at least in the toxic middle school ecosystem. This is another film that spins a huge emotional trajectory from collections of small, mundane moments, transporting you back into the huge, booming emotional peaks and valleys of adolescence.

#2 Roma

The opening shot of Alfonso Cuarón's Roma is captivating. Without moving a muscle, it completely transforms itself from something normal and menial to a glorious spectacle. I can't stop thinking or writing about this shot, but the movie attached to it is just as good. Another loose collection of tiny moments from daily life (this year has been good for those), Roma tells the story of a year in Mexico City from the perspective of a live-in maid who must care for the children of a well-to-do family. It's a shocking plunge into the emotional depths of the human soul, using every trick at Cuarón's disposal (especially his ever-excellent, crisp black-and-white cinematography and a lush, rattling sound design) to batter your nerves and deliver you a heaping helping of pure cinema.

#1 Revenge

Speaking of pure cinema... Horror this year hasn't really been doing it for me, save this little rape-revenge flick, the debut of female French director Coralie Fargeat. It breaths new life into a genre I don't even like very much, applying a unique perspective to plot beats that audiences have seen a million times before. If it only did that, it would be number one on my list, but it sure as hell doesn't stop there. Every frame in this film is a revelation, painting the screen with blasts of color and shape that boggle the mind, drawing pure feeling from the imagery. Fargeat's command of her frame is so all-encompassing and exact that she can strike fear into your heart with just a shot of an apple. Also it's hella gory, which you know I'm into. But seriously, even if you're not into French extremism in the way that most civilians aren't, do yourself a favor and check out this film immediately. You won't be sorry.

Best 2017 Film I Missed: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

I saw this just barely too late, like on January 3rd or something. But it definitely would have landed on my list in the 10 to 6 slots at least. It's a fun romp that is somehow simultaneously a successful body switching comedy that is true to all of its characters and a fun evocation of retro video game tropes and clichés.

Honorable Mention: Bird Box

I literally watched this yesterday, so I don't want recency bias to allow it to supersede some other worthy film's place on the list. But Bird Box is a splendid post-apocalyptic thriller, based on the elemental human urge to look at something, to see and understand it, even when you aren't supposed to. Have you ever tried not looking at an eclipse? It's hard, my friend. It also takes the central narrative nugget of The Happening and makes it into the subtle, thrilling movie it always had the potential to be. The fact that it has a diverse cast and a female director is only a cherry on top of a particularly delicious sundae.

The Five Worst Films of 2018

#5 Venom

OK, maybe I just wasn't in the mood when I popped this one on, but it did absolutely zilch for me. The plot doesn't kick in for about fifty minutes, and it wraps up in a fashion that would even make the Fantastic 4 remake go "whoa whoa whoa, slow down." I love me a hilarious Tom Hardy accent, but I don't love the bro humor the film swerves into, or his complete and utter lack of chemistry with Michelle Williams, who is here for reasons I can't even begin to fathom.

#4 Ibiza

This Netflix film had its moments, but it bears every single hallmark of the worst of modern American comedy filmmaking: a bland title, a flabby go-nowhere plot, and not a single page of a script. Vanessa Bayer is a powerful force to have around if you want an improvised film, but the rest is a dull slog where every moment goes on for a cruelly long time.

#3 Basmati Blues

Gee, I wonder why this Bollywood style musical about genetically engineered rice stayed on the shelf for so long? The music is flat and dull, and the plot flops around like a fish headed toward a conclusion so predictable the screenwriters don't even bother leading up to it in any sort of organic way. I'm surprised Brie Larson hasn't used her Captain Marvel money to bury this film deep in the Arizona desert.

#2 Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The original Fantastic Beasts is no masterpiece, but it's a fun re-entry into Rowling's Wizarding World. This movie looked at all the charming plots and characters in that movie and decided to toss them all in a wood chipper, shoehorning them into an ugly grey European adventure that literally only exists to set up the next three movies, vomiting up yards and yards of incoherent plot along the way about characters we've never met before and vanish from the film without a trace for an hour at a time. It's all grotesque fan service, conflicts that crash into the film as abruptly as they resolve themselves, and way more Johnny Depp than anybody asked for. I don't love all of the Harry Potter films, but this is the first entry in the franchise that's actually plumb terrible.

#1 Proud Mary

Taraji P. Henson playing an assassin in a 70's inspired crime movie should be a slam dunk. But it's an ineptly shot, murky disaster that focuses way too much on her shouting at an orphan instead of slamming heads and cocking guns. Guns which nobody taught her how to use, because she holds them like she's the Tin Man and her elbows haven't been oiled up yet. Plus, Danny Glover gives his entire performance sitting down, because he knows exactly what kind of movie he's in.

Best Worst Movie: Deep Blue Sea 2

I had such a great time with this movie, a totally standard SyFy original that spruces itself up with some CGI baby sharks that brought me no small amount of joy.

Worst 2017 Film I Missed: Brad's Status

Wow, it's just so hard to be a middle-aged white man running a non-profit successful enough to support your mortgage on that giant suburban house, isn't it? Who cares if your college friends make slightly more money or are on TV sometimes? You don't have to mope for an entire feature film about it.

Best Dramatic Actor: Alex Wolff, Hereditary

I was, shall we say, mostly unimpressed with Hereditary as a horror film. But there is a moment that hits your nerves like a sledgehammer, and it's all due to Wolff's performance. I shan't spoil the exact situation he's in, but there's a shot that completely ignores a horrible scene to focus on his face and his reaction to said horrible scene. We just hold on his face and watch in terror as a wash of emotion contorts his entire being. You're right there with him every step of the way, and it's all thanks to the almost incalculable level of technique and craft he displays.

Best Comedic Actor: Randall Park, Ant-Man and the Wasp

You know I stump for Randall Park whenever I can, but this role is a beefy one, showing how well the man can play off even a comic giant like Paul Rudd. The moment where an awkward conversation between Park's FBI agent and Rudd's outlaw superhero almost turns into a dinner date is maybe the single cinematic moment I've thought about most this year.

Best Dramatic Actress: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, The Cloverfield Paradox

Did I forget everything about The Cloverfield Paradox the second the end credits rolled? Of course I did. But I can never forget the way Hollywood has treated Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who turns in a performance so committed and raw, you can almost believe she thought this was going to be a good movie. She deserves bigger and better things every second of her career.

Best Comedic Actress: Isla Fisher, Tag

Tag is a thoroughly unremarkable comedy about white men acting like children, which is hardly anything new. But Fisher is a breath of fresh air for every second she's onscreen, turning what could have just been a generic "supportive wife" character into a screwball psychopath who's not only more into than the boys, but maybe a little too into it. She's giving us the exact energy that Rose Byrne delivered in the original Neighbors, and I love every inch of it.

Best Child Actor: Jibrail Nantambu, Halloween

As Julian, the kid that the film's obligatory babysitter is looking after, Jibrail Nantambu is somehow the breakout in a film that includes both Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer. He's a sass master, which might have made him feel a little too 90's sitcommy, but he has such a real and tender relationship with his babysitter you can't help but sympathize with him. It's maybe the most layered male comic performance of the year? Way to go, kid!

Best Child Actress: Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade 

At 15 years old, Elsie Fisher is the lead in her own movie and she f**king deserves it. She gives a nuanced, well-observed performance that most people wouldn't be able to achieve at forty. She's entirely in a class of her own, somehow stepping out of her real life to look down at what makes it tick and translating all that into a knowing, yet ultimately real and immediate portrait that anybody looking back at their junior high days will instantly recognize.

Best Couple: Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Rabbit

If it weren't for those annoying rabbits, this movie would be an absolutely charming romantic comedy about an uptight businessman who inherits a farm and falls in love with the early free spirit next door. Their chemistry is off the charts, to the point that I fervently wished that Mr. McGregor would wipe that smug James Corden hare of the face of the planet.

Best Cameo: A Christmas Prince in The Princess Switch

The Princess Switch is just one of this year's deluge of Christmas movies from Netflix, but they appropriately pay homage to the flick that started it all when two of the characters literally sit down on the couch and watch A Christmas Prince on Netflix. It's a self-nod that probably isn't quite earned after only two years of making these movies in earnest, but it's a welcome admission that they're not exactly taking these things seriously, they just want you to sit down and have fun.

Worst Cameo: Bill Duke in Mandy

There's a lot of unnecessary padding in Mandy, a movie I didn't particularly care for the meat of in the first place. But while a lot of random characters show up in the drug-fueled haze of the third act, the most egregious is Bill Duke, a hermit who is somehow friends with Nic Cage and provides him with lots of weapons without having been introduced to the movie before this scene. I get the fact that this is supposed to be trippy, but having a scene so cliché come straight out of nowhere is something I absolutely am not here for. Bah humbug.

Best CGI Creation: The Shining Sequence in Ready Player One

Integrating actual footage from The Shining into its gameplay plot is the single most satisfying nerdgasm moment from Ready Player One, a movie pretty much designed to squeeze every ounce of nerd juice out of its audience. It's satisfying because it actually combines retro fun with futuristic tech in an eye-popping and creative way instead of just shoving something you've heard of before in front of your eyes.

Worst CGI Creation: The rest of Ready Player One

Oh yeah, did I mention I didn't like this movie at all? The character designs are simultaneously lazy and ugly, not at all capturing the way actual teens would choose to represent themselves in an online utopia.

Best Wedding: Crazy Rich Asians

Literally the most breathtaking moment of the year is when the aisle begins to fill with water as the bride glides to her destination. The entire film stops dead to gawk, the soundtrack dropping out of existence entirely to leave you with no distraction whatsoever as to how impossibly gorgeous this entire display is. Sublime.

Worst Wedding: A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Ah yes, there's nothing like a royal wedding. A wedding that takes place in front of the twelve extras the production managed to gather, where the procession wanders down the aisle to acoustic Spanish guitar noodling in a rather unimpressive wide shot.

Best End-Credits Sequence: Deadpool 2

[SPOILERS] Deadpool 2 packs a bunch of its best meta humor into this time-traveling sequence, set to Cher's eternal hit "If I Could Turn Back Time."

Best Mid-Credits Sequence: Avengers: Infinity War

[SPOILERS] And by that I mean there isn't one. The ending of Infinity War is a brutal gut punch that kills off half its cast in one fell swoop, and withholding the obligatory mid-credits sequence is the most cruel trick of all, really highlighting how bleak and empty the world is now. At least until it's all undone next Spring when the sequel comes out. 

Best Score: The Strangers: Prey at Night by Adrian Johnston

Some might say that this film ripped off John Carpenter's score for The Fog, but I say why complain when it's attached to a movie that's light-years more interesting than The Fog?

Best Soundtrack: A Simple Favor

Thank you for exposing me to so much classic French pop that I didn't know I needed in my life, Paul Feig!

Best Song From a Musical: "Hollywood Ending" Anna and the Apocalypse

Sure, it's very High School Musical. But I love High School Musical. And this is the only musical sequence in the film where the catchy, peppy music is paired with fun choreography instead of people just standing around belting.

Worst Song From a Musical: "Why Did You Do That?" A Star is Born

There are a lot of rock musicals have a scene where a character "sells out" and makes a crappy song. But in the case of films like Begin Again (where Adam Levine steals his girlfriend's indie song and croons all over it), usually I - with my bubblegum tendencies - actually kind of like the song. Not so in A Star is Born. They really did manage to convince me that Ally's pop album is probably unadulterated garbage. Good work!

Best Monster: The Bear, Annihilation

Annihilation has a lot of horrifying sights and sounds, but this mutant bear that screams like a human is as pitiful as it is spine-shatteringly scary. It's an indelible image that may never leave my nightmares entirely.

Worst Monster: Christian Grey, Fifty Shades Freed

When is the best time to tell your fiancée that you don't want kids? If your answer was "the day after the wedding," then you might just be Christian Grey. Anastasia Steele may have never signed his BDSM contract, but she is now legally bound to this man who wants to control what she wears, who she has contact with, what she does at work, and what she does in bed. Wow, what a catch!

Biggest Laugh: Giant Space Oprah, A Wrinkle in Time

Thank you for chilling in the background of every shot for a full six minutes and prevented that portion of the movie from being as dishwater dull as the rest of the movie.

Biggest Cry: The Beach, Roma

After a trip into the ocean that uses all the crushing weight of Cuarón's unflinching single take and pitch perfect sound design to thrust our lead character far into the symbolic depths of her subconscious, she unloads all the emotions she has pent up throughout the entire film in a powerhouse performance that will leave you curled up on the floor heaving sobs into your couch cushion.

Biggest Scream: Act 6, Suspiria

Let me start this off by saying that no film should have six acts. But if you're going to go that far, you might as well make it as out-and-out bonkers as Luca Guadagnino did here, finally giving in to the colorful excess of Argento's original for an orgy of blood that is truly mind-boggling and worth sitting through the rest of this excessively self-indulgent art horror flick.

Best Title: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

This one gets it for embracing the camp factor, and giving the movie the title everybody kind of knew in the back of their minds was the only possible option, but weren't genius enough to come up with.

Worst Title: Blockers

Look, if you're too shy to call your movie "Cockblockers," just call it something else! This literally isn't a title, and it becomes even less of one when you separate it from the cutesy silhouette of a chicken that's paired with it on the poster.

Best Line: "Somewhere out there, there’s an 8-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. You’re doing this for her." - Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Ocean's 8

Worst Line: "Best friends gotta eat, right?" - Nikki (Emma Roberts), Little Italy

Best Poster:
Sorry to Bother You

Mmm. I love me some color, and the eye-searing purple here just grabs your attention by the horns. But then it drags your eye down to the central figure, who isn't exactly as well taken care of as most lead characters on movie posters. It introduces a mystery (what the hell happened to his head?!) and makes you want to see the hell out of this movie without knowing a single thing about it.

Worst Poster: The First Purge

Get it? 

Best Poster For a Bad Movie: Acrimony

Taraji P. Henson sure isn't making a hell of a lot of good movies this year, but at least she knows how to pick projects with good PR teams.

Worst Poster For a Good Movie: Paddington 2

Look, it's not like it's ugly, but it's just the exact poster from the first one with a different sandwich. I'm just saying it'll make my Paddington poster collection a little drab.

Best Tagline: "Don't Miss the Climax" Fifty Shades Freed

I respect this publicity team for knowing exactly what kind of movie people wanted and not shying away one bit from promising that to them.

Worst Tagline: "Terror is Building" Winchester

Was a sub-sub-subpar dad joke really the best way to sell your horror movie?

Top Five Pretty Guys

#5 Luke Benward (Life of the Party, Dumplin')

What is it about Luke Benward? Is it his beautiful hair that defies gravity? Is it his surprisingly broad shoulders for such a slim man? Or is it the fact that he's content to play the love object in movies starring plus-sized women, waiting around for them to go on their journey of self-discovery before he rewards himself to them? It's a combination of all three, but the most important is certainly the latter. I love me a generically handsome man who's willing to play the boring love interest roles that women have traditionally been forced to inhabit for decades. Move over, Jake Lacy, there's a new game in town.

#4 Joel Edgerton (Red Sparrow)

Joel Edgerton is such a chameleon, that I didn't realize one of the things he could look like was "hot person." This steamy erotic thriller lacked a lot, but it did not lack in chemistry between me and Mr. Edgerton in a swimsuit.

#3 John Krasinski (A Quiet Place)

Kransinki has been going on a hotness journey in the intervening years between The Office and now, but never has he intersected more with my interests than his lumberjack cosplaying in the (only OK) hit thriller A Quiet Place.

#2 Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians, A Simple Favor)

Crazy Rich Asians is all about excess and luxury, and is there anything more luxurious than an overabundance of handsome men, especially this BBC presenter turned lead actor? I really liked A Simple Favor, but by far my favorite moment watching the movie was the audible gasp from the audience the first time he stepped onscreen.

#1 Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

That hair! That uniform that emphasizes all that Creed II muscle! That ability to be relatable and relevant despite being the villain! Don't mind if I do.

Bonus: Pierre Png (Crazy Rich Asians)

You can't just have one entry from Crazy Rich Asians, and while Pierre Png doesn't get quite as much screentime as our dear Mr. Golding, he owns it just as well.

Top Five Movie Discoveries

#5 Idle Hands (1999)

We did a whole month of 90's horror over on my podcast Scream 101, but the one that really got my goat was Idle Hands, a hilarious horror comedy about a kid so lazy that a demonic force possesses his hand and kills everyone around it. It's got surprisingly great special effects for a late-90's horror movie, and stoner humor with a pitch black sensibility, two comic spheres that have maybe never been combined before, and certainly have never been combined better.

#4 Bride & Prejudice (2004)

As you may have noticed, I watch a lot of Jane Austen-related content, but Bride & Prejudice is second only to Clueless in the way it updates one of her stories to the modern day. Translating the marriage and property-obsessed attitudes of 18th century England into a traditional family in modern India, not only does it engage with the Austen material from a genius modern perspective, but it does so as a truly spectacular Bollywood musical. The wedding dance sequence that opens the film is one that I'll never forget, and I get the itch to rewatch this movie at least once a week, even if the ending is a bit perfunctory.

#3 The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

I know I've way missed the boat on this one, but who would want to watch movies that were nominated for Oscars in the 90's? Turns out The Talented Mr. Ripley deserves all the attention it got. It's a steamy, wild tale of barely sublimated homosexual desire that is a twisted but perfect reflection of the the awful situation the community was in back in the days between AIDS and Will and Grace.

#2 Muriel's Wedding (1994)

By far the most tense Toni Collette movie I've seen this year, here's looking at you HereditaryMuriel's Wedding is a deeply bitter romantic comedy about how far a lonely woman is willing to sink in order to appear successful by the only metric she has ever learned is important in a woman's life: finding a husband, whether or not they're actually in love. It's an incredibly uncomfortable psychological portrait, but it's also a warm and hilarious Aussie indie drenched in the best of ABBA. Toni Collette and "Mamma Mia!" How could I not love this movie?

#1 Babe (1995)

I guess the 90's are really where my head was at this year. Obviously, I'd seen Babe before, but only once as a kid and I couldn't remember a single detail. When I rewatched it as an adult, I realized what a bucolic masterpiece it really is. Combining spectacular Henson effects with the commitment and dedication of producer George Miller, Babe tells a heart-wrenchingly sweet story about how a sweet and pure soul can change the lives of everyone around them for the better. This movie is a balm for everything that's wrong in 2018, and I certainly needed it.
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