I thought I would change things up this year. Instead of doing a standard top ten best/worst list, this year I am doing a top five best/worst as well as my top five performances of 2018. Let us know your thoughts.
Top 5 Best Films:
5. “Isle of Dogs” – Dir; Wes Anderson
Like most Wes Anderson tales (pun intended) that end up becoming cult classics, the most forgotten movie of 2018 is “Isle of Dogs”. On the surface it is a stop motion animation farce set in Japan about a dog flu outbreak in the technologically advanced city of Megasaki that forces all possible canines carrying the disease to be sent to trash island. But there is so much more just like all of Anderson’s work. Political undertones are combined with poking fun at cultural stereotypes. But none of that matters because at its core “Isle of Dogs” is about friendship and how that is portrayed through the innocent eyes of a child. Anderson’s meticulous style is unlike any other filmmaker which makes one appreciate him further. Here he finds heart and ingenuity that it does not take an animal lover to relate to.
4. “Hereditary” – Dir; Ari Aster
“Hereditary” is a whirlwind of family pain wrapped in the convenient genre term of horror. Toni Colette, who was certainly snubbed for an Oscar nod, is kind turned to brutal as a mother who cannot help but lose her mind given the circumstances. New director Ari Aster creates a world where the main character must coup with the loss of her mother and a child while trying to maintain her sanity. On top of that, the film is compartmentalized both visually and story wise like the same doll house type art Colette’s character creates to try and get through her suffering. Then all hell breaks loose. Not a perfect movie as the ending admittedly goes off the rails a bit too far, “Hereditary” is a completely original theater experience and shows that a new auteur in the world of cinema has arrived.
3. “Eighth Grade” – Dir; Bo Burnham
The best thing YouTube has ever produced is not a video. It is a real portrayal of the modern experience growing up as a teenager that writer/director Bo Burnham turned into the best unsung movie of the year. Elsie Fisher is a break out as a pimple faced nervous young girl about to leave the awkward junior high phase and confront the pressures of high school. Her single father does not relate to her desires of becoming a star on social media. Sounds like a cliche story you see on reddit or snapchat right. Nope. Burnham has constructed a piece that any person can relate to and remember those moments they did their best not to embarrass themselves in both school and work. All we can do is learn. “Eighth Grade” is far more concerned with that concept than trying to be cooler than everybody else.
2. “A Star Is Born” – Dir; Bradley Cooper
No singular piece of “A Star is Born” is head and shoulders above any other film of 2018 other than perhaps the outstanding Lady Gaga song “Shallow”. The acting is very good but not all time. The cinematography and editing is top notch but not game changing. The script is well put together but yet another remake of an old story. What makes “A Star is Born” such an unlikely success is its un-relented passion. One of the world’s biggest stars in Lady Gaga has a few big sequences, but it never feels forced. Bradley Cooper finds this strange balance of telling a cliche story while also infusing it with honesty that few films have the guts to do. It will make one clap then cry in the right ways.
1. “Roma” – Dir; Alfonso Cuaron
Welp, this was easy. “Roma” is in its own class compared to all other films of 2018. Writer/director/cinematographer Alfonso Cuaron went back to his home country Mexico to craft a story about a simple and loving human being doing her best to survive and be happy with the odds pit against her. Watching this film cinematically is like visiting the most pristine art museums in the world. Every shot is exquisite. And on top of that, the story of houseworker Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is something that the rich portion of society can sympathize with while the poor empathize simultaneously. Cleo’s cyclical journey from heartbreak to not wanting to become a mother and eventually finding her strength to support a family that does not place her on the same level is the type of journey only the most cynical of people would be unable to appreciate. If you are not afraid of a black and white film or having to read, “Roma” is the most enriching experience one could have.
Top 5 Worst Films:
5. “Venom” – Dir: Ruben Fleischer
Why this movie exists makes no sense. The villain Venom is one of Spider-Man’s most notorious foes and was established for years in the comics before getting his own spin-off series. In the movie world the character was butchered in Sam Raimi’s 2007 crap festival “Spider-Man 3”. In the midst of the Marvel reboot era they decide to make a stand alone movie about a bad guy people who have not read the comics are unfamiliar with. Seriously, this is an anti-hero who needs to see a dentist with the rate of people he is decapitating with his shark teeth. Just look into Tom Hardy’s eyes and tell me he’s not waiting to collect his paycheck after every scene.
4. “Holmes and Watson” – Dir: Etan Cohen
One could not recreate a big enough sigh for this garbage. I never blame actors for taking a bad role because they gotta get paid. This might be an exception. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly were a great comedic duo in “Step Brothers” and “Talledega Nights”. Now they think taking selfies and offending women doctors in a Sherlock Holmes adaption is good? I want to sit Ferrell, Reilly and director Etan Cohen down and explain that these characters are not f-ing idiots. And do not get me started with the way Holmes solves Moriarty’s secret plot that does not even make sense in the first place. What could have been a farce on a classic series turned out to be a meme that you’re hoping will get 100 likes. Somebody call the real Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery of who thought this was a good idea.
3. “Aquaman” – Dir: James Wan
I want you to go on the Rotten Tomatoes website and type in the title “Aquaman”. If the initial top image does not make you burst out laughing then I don’t know what to tell you. This is certainly one of those films that will be completely discarded for years to come. But hey, DC made money because Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard are damn sexy in their under water CGI outfits. Willem Dafoe’s man bun truly sums up how stupid this movie is. Plus Dolph Lundgren is in it. Good for him. Bad for the audience. Oh wait, I forgot to talk about the plot. So did the filmmakers.
2. “Bird Box” – Dir: Susanne Bier
One can only hope that the person who created the social media craze of “bird boxing” was under the age of ten which is about the intelligence level of this debacle. I am going to ruin it for you as quickly as possible if you have not seen it. Some type of wind monster/entity can make billions of people want to kill themselves the second you see it. Yet it does not have the ability to attack you as long as you have a window closed with a single layer of see through newspaper and scotch tape over it? That is just one of the dozens of glaringly stupid plot points in “Bird Box”. The ending simply adds to the stupidity. These entities have not figured out how to get around individuals whom have not had Lasik eye surgery? This is filmmakers turning off their brains to give us nonsensical entertainment 101.
1. “Crazy Rich Asians” – Dir; Jon M. Chu
Ok, let us ignore how blatantly racist “Crazy Rich Asians” is. It is directed by John Chu who grew up in L.A. and his second and third biggest movies are the Justin Bieber concert doc “Never Say Never” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” starring The Rock so there’s no way he’ll completely white wash a movie like this because his last name is Chu right? Let us ignore how stereotypically ridiculous and stupid the main character’s family is even if it reminds you of Mickey Rooney with his overbite and how racist that was in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” because after all this time it is all Asian actors so we’re cool. Let us ignore the blatant racism against Muslims when the main character and her incredibly annoying best friend Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina) show up at the crazy rich house and have a conniption fit that it is terrorists coming to attack because the guards are both Muslim wearing turbans. Forget all of that because it’s Asians making fun of Asians even though most of the Producers, the Cinematographer, Editor, Music Designer, Art Director, Production Designer, Costume Designer were all white people. At least the top credited hairstylist is from Singapore. So if you can get past that crap, do you realize how unbelievably stupid this movie is?
I realized it in the first five minutes of the film. Our main character Rachel (Constance Wu) is a beautiful young woman in what I am guessing is in her mid to late 20’s to early 30’s. She’s been dating Nick (Henry Golding) for quite a while and marriage is on the horizon. Rachel, again a young lady, is teaching economics at NYU. Not a community college or high school, at NY-fing-U. She is smart enough to teach at a school that is so prestigious at such a young age yet has no idea she is dating a guy connected to one of the richest families in the world? She teaches ECONOMICS! Does this economics professor not know what facebook or google is? And on top of that, when the couple returns home Rachel’s entire family knows who this guy is. That is just the tip of the ice berg for one of the dumbest film experiences one could ever attempt to venture through.
Top 5 Performances:
5. Olivia Colman – “The Favourite”
In a film that I found pretentious and completely overrated, Olivia Colman was an absolute standout. A highly respected actress in the U.K., Colman brings such subtle range to the domineering Queen Anne that she over shadows well known stars like Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz by a mile. Her high notes to low notes performance only adds to the climactic scenes when her character explodes in both temper as well as unexpected sexual chess matches. In a farce that parades itself as high art, Colman brings class to an otherwise classless film.
4. Ethan Hawke – “First Reformed”
An actor known for his boisterous performances over the thirty plus years he has been a star, Ethan Hawke takes it back more than just a few steps in his portrayal of Father Toller. The little things are what make Hawkes’ portrayal of the character so quietly spectacular. The way he prepares in the morning, adjust his clothes or things around the church, or holds back emotions any human being has is simply phenomenal. The film as a whole falls short with a less than stellar conclusion, but “First Reformed” is arguably Hawke’s best performance to date.
3. Elsie Fisher – “Eighth Grade”
Where did this amazingly talented young woman come from? With her only main credits being the voice of a character from the “Despicable Me” franchise, Fisher captures the struggles of growing up during the cruel period of life that is adolescence. Fisher is un-afraid of being vulnerable and honest in the social media world in which kids judge themselves based on likes. She has maturity that 90% of adult actors wish they had and I expect great things from her going forward.
2. Regina King – “If Beale Street Could Talk”
I always knew Regina King could act after first seeing her as the frustrated wife in “Jerry Maguire” more than twenty years ago. With her performance as the concerned mother Sharon Rivers she outshines everyone in “Beale Street”. There is a scene which I will not go into detail if you have not seen the film but it is the best singular ten minutes of acting I have witnessed all year. A mother’s pain for her imprisoned son has never been more eloquently put on screen in the way that King does it here. It is a virtuoso of hope to suffering few actors can pull off.
1. Rami Malek – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is unbelievably cliche. There is also yet more controversy surrounding director Bryan Singer’s off-set behavior. That takes nothing away from Rami Malek’s captivating performance as Queen frontman Freddy Mercury. From Mercury’s famous over bite to his on stage charisma, Malek goes all in on both the nuances and the big set pieces. The final Live Aid concert recreation Queen performed at is not special because of the filming or the hundreds of extras. It is special because Malek completely loses himself not just in a character, but in an icon.