The best and worst in film

Posted 12/24/18

Here are my best and worst films of 2018, along with the most unexpected surprises and disappointments this year. Most of the comments are drawn from my written reviews:

Top 10

Best Film of …

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The best and worst in film

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Here are my best and worst films of 2018, along with the most unexpected surprises and disappointments this year. Most of the comments are drawn from my written reviews:

Top 10

Best Film of 2018:“First Man”—Adapted from James R. Hansen biography of Neil Armstrong, director Damien Chazelle’s latest film brilliantly conveys the grimy, harrowing mechanics of the early space program. Almost every rocket launch is shot from the claustrophobic perspective of being inside the spacecraft, where every roar, shutter, and creak of the capsule carries palpable dread. Aided by cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s handheld camerawork, the film is also a meditative portrait of a taciturn yet resolute hero, one whose achievements are less about one small step for a man than a giant leap for mankind.

“Roma”—Although shot in luminous black-and-white, Director Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical remembrance of his childhood in early 1970s Mexico is one of this year’s most visually vibrant films. The bustle and brio of Mexico City, with its street vendors and neon nightlife and opulent movie houses, is one of the film’s headliners. This personal reflection also attempts to unravel the familial and cultural complexities Cuarón was once too young to grasp.

“The Favourite”—Director Yorgos Lanthimos relishes in the ugly side of courtly manners, wallowing in the excesses of aristocratic hedonism, a milieu full of bacchanalia and backstabbing in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). All three lead performances, including Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, are awards-worthy—their gender-switching triumvirate is a misanthropic joy ride.

“First Reformed”—Ethan Hawke gives an aching, penetrating performance as small-town pastor in upstate New York struggling with despair and a crisis of faith on multiple fronts. Director Paul Schrader’s best film in years skewers religion, politics, and even environmentalism.

“Widows”—This polished, taut heist film by director Steve McQueen does it the old-fashioned way: building a layered narrative via well-developed characters, led by three women trying to fix the mess left to them by their men.

“If Beale Street Could Talk”—Director Barry Jenkins follows his Oscar-winning “Moonlight” with an adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. The result is a tone poem that contemplates the African-American experience, particularly the strong and strained bonds of family, full of lives felled by constantly dashed hopes.

“Mission: Impossible - Fallout”—It isn’t a good action film. It’s a great one, rivaling genre exemplars and surpassing (while also drawing upon) the previous entries in the “Mission: Impossible film” series.

“Leave No Trace”—Director Debra Granik’s feature film follow-up to “Winter’s Bone” is an engrossing parable about an Iraq War vet (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin McKenzie), who live in the forest, far from the demands and expectations of civilization. When the world comes calling, we’re left with a portrait of parenthood and maturation in which there is no good or bad, but thought-provoking shades of gray.

“Eighth Grade”—Writer-director Bo Burnham, who rose to fame as an Internet sensation, skewers the very modern-day milieu that serves as his celebrity platform. The film’s ingenue is Kayla (15-year-old Elsie Fisher), who is in her final week of eighth grade, which has devolved into an alternate reality of photo filters, web chats, and school shooting drills. It’s a searing portrait of a social dystopia in which, thanks to the Internet, everyone is connected yet no one feels connected.\

“Black Panther”—In the hands of director Ryan Coogler, the film’s real attraction is its milieu, an exquisite, searing crossroads of race, gender, age, class, politics, and culture. With its resplendent representation of African regalia, it also defiantly reclaims Hollywood’s historically racist depiction of tribal Africa.

The Best of the Rest (alphabetically): “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”; “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”; “Cold War”; “Game Night”; “Hereditary”; “The Old Man and the Gun”; “A Star is Born”; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”; “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” 

The Bottom Rung

Worst Film of 2018: “Fifty Shades Freed”—The previous two installments of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy were each ranked among my worst films of their respective years, so it’s fitting and deserved that the final chapter takes the title. The core fault with the entire trilogy remains the lack of chemistry between the two leads, already crippled by having to portray a dysfunctional, discomforting relationship featuring a possessive sociopath and his emotionally arrested prey. Meanwhile, the recurring scenes of softcore porn are erected around a wisp of a plot and achieve a level of banal sameness – call it “Fifty Shades Skinemax.”

“The Commuter”—The best hope for this lunkheaded thriller is that it might finally derail the litany of Liam Neeson “Taken” ripoffs.

“The Meg”—This film was described as “Jaws on steroids.” If that means the movie is a bloated behemoth that betrays the legacy of its forebears before fading away in disgrace, then they’re correct.

“Night School”—Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are very funny, but here they deliver a failing comedic grade, squandering a gifted and talented cast on a remedial script, incomplete direction, and a tacked-on life lesson that rings as genuine as an after-school special.

“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”—As sweet and insubstantial as the Sugar Plum Fairy’s pink cotton candy hair, it’s a confounding confection, full of pretty clothes, pretty music, pretty scenery, and pretty much nothing else.

“Peppermint”—This gender-switching, reprehensible revenge fantasy starring Jennifer Garner is more sour than sweet, a pile distasteful agitprop that could have been produced by the most radical recesses of an alt-right think tank.

“Rampage”—Nothing makes sense in this brainless Dwayne Johnson vehicle, a CGI creature feature that’s one part MonsterVerse, two parts “Transformers.”

“Super Troopers 2”—Exuding the freshness of a vaudeville revue, this sequel arrives 17 years after its predecessor yet is still stuck in the early aughts. Broken Lizard had its day, and this new crowdfunded follow-up doesn’t feel edgy or nostalgic.

“Welcome to Marwen”—This massive misstep is the runt of the prestige films season. Director Robert Zemeckis supposedly delves into the tortured psyche of his real-life protagonist, played by a bland Steve Carell. But it’s Zemeckis’s oddball fantasy indulgences that dominate this lifeless, meaningless mess, which consigns its subject to a creepy misfit.

“A Wrinkle in Time”—Director Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle’s acclaimed 1962 science fantasy novel is a tonal and thematic mess. It’s a rotating series MS Windows screensavers, strung together by the labored delivery of leaden dialogue that intones hollow self-affirmations and mundane mantras ostensibly centered around whatever YA hot topics springs to mind.

Most Unexpectedly Pleasant Surprises

“Game Night”


“Instant Family”

“A Simple Favor”

“Uncle Drew”


Most Disappointing

“Ant-Man and the Wasp”


“The Front Runner”


“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”



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