Friday, February 22, 2019

TOP 10 Movie Picks of 2018

Year after year, movies continue to take me to places I've never been.  It's one our great escapes; an artform which wields the power to seize all of our senses at once.  The tradition of sharing my Top 10 favorite films is something I look forward to year-round, keeping a little list of everything new I've had the chance to watch.  Drawing from that pool of new cinematic treats, I get to talk about some of my new favorite experiences and share the places they took me.

There are plenty of movies which didn't make the list but are still worth-while to sit down for a couple of hours with.  Franchise blockbusters like Solo, Antman and the Wasp, Black Panther, Aquaman, and Venom are all good cheap thrills. Love it or nah, Batman Ninja is a unique animation experience- an absolute gas! My sci-fi fix got fed this year with A Quiet Place, Hotel Artemis, and Bird Box.  My sick sense of humor was satisfied by Game Night and Happy Time Murders.

Movies which were better than they should have been:  The Equalizer 2, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, The Girl in the Spider's Web, and Mission: Impossible- Fallout

Movies which were worse than they should have been: The Predator and Ocean's Eight 

Tremendous performances were abound in biopics this year!  Acting by Hugh Jackman in The Front Runner, Laura Dern in The Tale, Christian Bale in Vice, Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in Green Book, Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, and Willem Defoe in At Eternity's Gate were all outstanding character studies.

A few more honorable mentions this year include Boy Erased, Juliet, Naked, First Reformed, Searching, The Vanishing, BlacKkKlansman, Spinning Man, and Isle of Dogs.  If that doesn't already give you too many suggestions for your watch list, these are the movies which really gave me something to talk about this past year...

[Honorable Mention] The Party (directed by Sally Potter)

Janet is hosting a small celebration at her London flat to celebrate her new promotion.  As the motley guest list arrives, a deeper tangle of storylines merge in this black and white British gem.  The intimate setting of the film really pushes a neat ensemble of character actors to shine with the help of a razor-sharp script.  A fun range of performances find room to burst forth, each one with equal levity.  As with real-life parties, you're there and gone before you know it.  Clocking in at just 71 minutes and filmed in two weeks, it brings the feel of stage with it to the screen and the viewer gets to listen in on all the conversations.

[10] Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot (directed by Gus Van Sant)

Based on the autobiography of John Callahan, Joaquin Phoenix takes the lead as a cartoonist who documents his bumpy road to sobriety after becoming paralyzed.  The film has a wonderful sense of humor which finds its way to sprout through some thick, heavy subject matter.  The dark and quirky comedy match's the tone of the real-life source material.  John's cartoons coming to life on screen illustrate the character's thoughts to charming animated effect.  The depravity of addiction is the antagonist here and Gus Van Sant-branded redemption is found through humor, love, and art.

[09] The Favourite (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

The trio of calculated performances in this film create the calculated tone which is at times darkly comedic, strangely erotic, and overall unnerving.  The movie documents the lesbian exploits of Queen Anne and the manipulation of the power structure of the crown. It presents a commentary on wealth, seduction, and power.  Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone all come out award-worthy, deserving of the stream of nominations which have followed.  Mostly filmed in natural light, the gorgeous set design and elegant costumes stand gorgeously firm as the backdrop to the absurdities of vane 18th century royalty. 

[08] The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (directed by The Coen Brothers)

Anthologies are typically reserved for collections of short films by different filmmakers.  Here the Coen Brothers stay true to brand and show it's never too late to defy another convention by releasing a collection of short films headed up by a sweet cast of actors. While wholly western, each story takes a different tone, encapsulating much of what we all love about the Coen Brothers.  My absolute favorite was Tom Waits' Prospector character in the segment, "All Gold Canyon," which probably is what landed the film here on my list.  The greatest hits of Coen tropes are craftily delivered, culminating in a wagon-trip to Purgatory. You'll enjoy the ride.

[07] Bad Times at the El Royale (directed by Drew Goddard)

It's been a looooong time since Hollywood produced a pulp movie worthy of the 90's precedent set by directors like Quentin Tarantino.  Set in 1969, this period piece captures the time, the music, and the swag of the era through an eclectic group of characters brought together one stormy evening.  The setting is the El Royale, a hotel lying in limbo on the California and Nevada state line; or the line between Heaven and Hell perhaps?  Over the course of the night, the seven strangers and their secrets collide.  As the events unfold in this non-linear narrative, a seasoned cast delivers a grandly woven tale.

[06] Wildlife (directed by Paul Dano)

This portrait of an American family has the tone of a John Steinbeck novella or of a Tennessee Williams play.  Paul Dano's directorial debut tackles the American dream and all of it's complex anxieties.  It captures the burden and trial of maintaining the roles society sets upon us. The pent up emotions of the both leads climaxes with the desperate acts which human emotion drives us to.  A fire is raging in the background and it is making room for more gothic, suburban sprawl.   The characters are the wildlife and as the audience, we get a look into and observe their habitat while the slow drama unfolds. 

[05] Widows (directed by Steve McQueen)

In this adaptation of the 1980's BBC miniseries by the same name, a team of strong female leads take charge after their husbands are killed in a robbery gone wrong. From one of the edgiest directors in the past decade, this thriller competes as one of the best heist movies in recent memory. The fast-moving thriller satisfies the expectations you'd expect from the genre, propped up by a stacked deck of a cast.  Perhaps one of the most overlooked movies of the year, Widows delivers on all fronts.  You get a heavy helping of smart action, explosive acting, and unexpected twists expertly plotted to the screen. 

[04] Avengers: Infinity War (directed by The Russo Brothers)

Ten years in the making, Thanos's intergalactic opera is one of the most ambitious projects ever put to film.  It's the longest Marvel movie to date but moves so freaking fast, you don't know what hit you.  The visual homages to the comic book source material were oh so very satisfying to see as the Infinity Gauntlet warps time and reality with imagery straight from the comic books!  While staying true to the character, Marvel Studios hits a home run creating their cinematic Mad Titan and manage to elevate him to anti-hero status.  The end result shocked audiences and made for one heckuva thrill ride!

[03] Blindspotting (directed by Carlos López Estrada)

It's a special thing to see a movie break into new territory with its originality.  Blindspotting is a timely take on racial identity in America.  It's a frustrated, primal scream focusing on best friends who are navigating the ins and outs of their urban landscape.  The scripting provides Shakespearan asides in the form of spoken-work/hip-hop dialogue which elevates the commentary of the lead actors.  The characters tackle the human effect of the societal expectations associated with the color of their skin, relevant to the backdrop of modern-day Oakland.  It's a cutting edge mic drop on modern race relations.

[02] Annihilation (directed by Alex Garland)

This director's sophomore follow-up to Ex Machina is quite simply a visual masterpiece.  Annihilation blends both the horror and sci-fi genres into one terrifying amalgamation.  An alien impact on Earth is infecting its surrounding landscape, fusing the DNA of everything within its fallout.  An all-female expedition team dares to breach a place where the rules of nature as we know it no longer apply and where soldiers go in, never to be heard from again.  The result is a world wrought with a dark and stunning psychedelia as species of animals and elements of nature begin to fuse together in an altered wonderland.  There are enough scares, action, and surreal visuals to leave you spinning for hours afterwards. 

[01] Sorry to Bother You (directed by Boots Riley)

This satirical bombshell is set in an alternate reality from our own.  The hero of our fable, Cassius Green discovers the key to success when aged fellow-telemarketer Langston (Danny Glover) introduces him to his "white voice," in order to rise to the top of the telemarketing ranks.  White actors such as Patton Oswalt voice the black actors via overdub with daringly hilarious effect.  There are no sacred sheep as the movie airs its discontents of society, race relations, capitalism, relationships, and workers rights.  If Glengary Glen Ross where set in the world of Idiocracy, this is how the story would play out.  The utter absurdity of the film is wholly relatable for an American audience living in the modern oblivious circus.

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