Now Playing: Best and Worst of 2018

Now Playing: Best and Worst of 2018

Well, another year gone, another year’s worth of movies to reflect on. This year I saw 61 new movies, which, when you do the math, equates to almost four 24-hour days, or over two full work weeks worth of movie watching.

Actually, I probably shouldn’t do the math. Yes, that’s a lot, but the way I look at it, I got a lot out of the bargain.

I got to fly in the Millennium Falcon again. I got to go to the moon with Neal Armstrong, though the trip was far more boring than I would have expected. I fought psychotic ghost nuns and giant sharks, went on vengeance-fueled shooting sprees with Jennifer Garner and Denzel Washington, and even learned how to play soccer alongside Claymation cavemen.

It was a pretty exciting year, all in all.

Here, then, is a list of my favorite films of the year, as well as a breakdown of those you might choose to avoid if you don’t have two weeks free to devote to the movies. These films are in no particular order, unless you count alphabetical.

THE BEST

Annihilation

Most of the movies I picked for my best list this year were respectable hits, if not massive blockbusters. “Annihilation” is the exception. This beautiful, trippy science-fiction horror drama never really found the audience it was looking for, despite being based on a best-selling novel, directed by Alex Garland, and starring Natalie Portman. It’s hard to describe the plot without spoiling, but suffice it to say this movie will keep you up nights contemplating the implications of everything that happens. It’s different from the book, but no less worth your time.

Marvel’s Best

2018 saw six different films born out of the Marvel comics money machine. They were of varying levels of quality, but three made my best list. Two of those come from the MCU, or Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Black Panther” came out in February and proved decisively that diversity in the comic movie world is going to be a watchword going forward. This movie was a massive hit — bringing in audiences that love superhero films and those who wouldn’t be caught dead at one.

Ryan Coogler invests so much energy, love and attention into this very African fantasy that a spin-off series is all but guaranteed. “Panther” was followed shortly by the most ambitious superhero film ever in “Avengers – Infinity War.” It only makes sense. When “Infinity War” was a comic book, it was one of the most ambitious endeavors ever for that medium, combining dozens of heroes from a wide array of titles, all coming together to fight one unstoppable force. By now, it’s not spoiling to say that that film ends with the death of half the life in the universe, which has made interest in this years “Avengers — Engame” particularly high. Surely they’re going to figure out a way to bring “Spider-Man” back to life. Right?

Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson is a filmmaker who makes the mundane seem remarkable, the fantastic mundane, and the intricate effortless. His latest — the stop-motion masterpiece “Isle of Dogs” — takes place in an alternate Japan and expresses the director’s love of Japanese pop culture and, of course, of dogs. Voiced by Anderson’s regular cast of superb actors, as well as few newcomers, including the amazing Bryan Cranston, “Isle of Dogs” is an amazing film for the whole family.

Mission Impossible: Fallout

If these movies were simply about Tom Cruise upping the ante on his stunts, they might not be worth the effort, but somehow every entry manages to be exciting, thrilling, funny and massively entertaining. You come out of a “Mission Impossible” movie feeling like, “Yes! This is what movies are supposed to be like!” Can’t beat that.

Paddington 2

These movies are in alphabetical order, but if I’m honest, “Paddington 2” was the best movie I saw all year. This film is both charming, well-acted, and absolutely beautiful. Hugh Grant is hilarious, as are Brendan Gleeson, Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins. If you’d told me a few years ago that a “Paddington” movie would be the best of 2018, I would have thought you were crazy, but it’s been a weird couple of years, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

A Quiet Place

John Krasinski’s amazing sci-fi thriller was not his directorial debut, as was occasionally reported, but was definitely where he showed what he could do. This often terrifying movie is very nearly silent through long stretches, making even the rustling of your popcorn bag echo through the theatre. Definitely one to watch with a crowd on the big screen, if at all possible.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

If “Infinity War” is the most ambitious superhero movie ever made, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” may be one of the most ambitious animated films ever. The story takes the concept of multiple universes and smashes them together in a riot of animation styles, making for a thrilling roller-coaster ride of a story about a group of spider-men (and woman) coming together to save the universe. It’s awesome.

A Star is Born

OK — not every movie I saw this year was a cartoon/sci-fi/super hero adventure. I actually watched some dramatic stuff, too. The top of that list is definitely Bradley Cooper’s masterpiece, “A Star is Born.” Lady Gaga is incredible; Sam Elliot somehow manages to be even cooler, and Cooper himself knocks it out of the park as a broken-down old singer handing the torch to the next generation. It’ll tear you up, but I loved it.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Mr. Rogers was never really my cup of tea. I probably thought I was too cool for him. But looking back now I realize how rare sincere, honest goodness is in Hollywood. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is an amazing documentary that reveals the man behind the cardigan and how important his mission truly was.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Alphabetically, this movie should be higher on the list, but it’s placement will be clear in a moment. This latest film from the Coen Brothers is probably the most gorgeously shot movie I’ve seen in a long time. The acting, writing, and directing of this anthology western are perfect — flawless. I was absolutely blown away upon watching this, so much so that I literally had the urge to start the movie again as soon as it was over.

THE WORST

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The reason I wanted to restart the movie because I was in shock and had the fleeting, entirely illogical idea that maybe if I watched the movie again things would turn out differently. I fully acknowledge that the Coen Brothers have no responsibility to me to provide happy endings, but their characters are so engaging and situations so fascinating that the ending of almost every story was like a kick in the gut. Even their bleak “No Country for Old Men” was more uplifting than this film.

The Cloverfield Paradox

This movie, released to Netflix with absolutely no fanfare after the Super Bowl this year, was supposed to be the big follow-up to “10 Cloverfield Lane” but something happened between the script phase and the editing bay. This movie is bizarrely bad to where it’s almost watchable. You’ll know things have gone irretrievably wrong by the time Chris O’Dowd has an argument with his own disembodied arm.

Christopher Robin

What a depressing misfire. Depressing in that the idea is fun and the animation is amazing despite the awful script, and depressing in that it’s seriously depressing. This film sees “Winnie the Pooh’s” Christopher Robin all grown up and sad — neglecting his family for a dead-end job, and abandoning his childhood friends who, somehow, are both stuffed animals and living, independent creatures, which makes Christopher Robin’s indifference all the sadder.

The House with a Clock in its Walls

This movie, an adaptation of a spooky children’s novel by a director as unlikely as Eli Roth, really wasn’t bad for most of the film. I liked Jack Black and Cate Blanchett and the story was fine. It wasn’t until a disturbingly grotesque and idiotic turn at the very end of the movie that things fall apart. Rarely do I want to walk out of a movie, and almost never in the last 10 minutes. Suffice it to say that a urinating baby Jack Black with an adult, bearded head was not the ending I was hoping for.

Hurricane Heist

C’mon. I don’t know what I was expecting, but — no, this is what I was expecting. Big, loud, stupid, violent and absolutely pointless. It’s hard to like this even ironically.

Pacific Rim — Uprising

I went to see this with my 10-year-old son, mostly because I was one of 10 people who actually liked the original “Pacific Rim.” Somehow the convoluted, yet mythic story from the first film has turned byzantine and boring. This is a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters where, over an hour in, my son leaned over and asked, “Are there going to be any giant monsters in this?” Good question.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

The title of this movie, combining Spanish and English, betrays the film’s lack of understanding about issues at the border. How can I expect writers who think “Dia Del” is too complicated for American audiences to understand to really grasp the reality of life on the border? The film portrays all aspects of illegal immigration as vicious and venal — everyone from the coyotes to the immigrants themselves are flawed, often violent. As the film rolls on, occasionally there is a modicum of sympathy for poor people seeking a better life, but it’s buried under a confused muddle of classism and xenophobia.

UFO

I was on a science fiction kick for a while this year, seeking out smaller, smarter films that were interested in high concepts and interesting conclusions. “UFO” looked like it was going to be in that vein, but proved ultimately to be dull and lifeless, with a terrible lead performance from Broadway star Alex Sharp as a math whiz who solves an extraterrestrial mystery. If you’re going to have a “Close Encounters of Good Will Hunting,” you need a Matt Damon.

Wildling

“Wildling” is the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of werewolf misfires. This film equates puberty with the onset of the wolf and some of the scenes with the young girl playing the lead seemed a little iffy. This film makes very little sense, takes huge leaps in logic, and the werewolf makeup is really awful.

Winchester

This movie had so much potential. The true story about the infamous Winchester Mansion is fascinating. The massive house has been under unceasing construction since the 19th century. The legend goes that Mrs. Winchester, in order to confuse the myriad ghosts of the victims of her husband’s famous invention, ordered new halls and rooms built in a confusing and labyrinthine fashion. The movie, however, squanders that potential with cheap jump scares and a completely illogical plot. Poor Helen Mirren is completely wasted in the role.


By CHRIS JENNESS


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