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Friday, February 22, 2019

The Top 10 Best Films of 2018

1) Black Panther
Co-Written & Directed By: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, & Lupita Nyong'o
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: Having seen Black Panther three times now, I can confidently say this film is my favorite of the year. Sure we have traditional Marvel action set pieces like a car chase through Busan, Korea or a third act fight sequence that involves genetically engineered rhinos, but we also have thoughtful discussions about what it takes to be a man and a leader, and what is the best approach to rule a country that is obviously the most powerful in the world. We sympathize with the villain Erik Killmonger because we agree with his approach for how Wakanda should run (and because Michael B Jordan can convince us to do anything), if not knocking the execution. There are so many ideas and themes in Black Panther that it easily rises to the top of being one of Marvel's best and earning the top spot on my list for the top ten films of 2018.

2) Minding The Gap
Directed By: Bing Liu
Starring: Zach Mulligan, Kiere Johnson, & Bing Liu
STARS: 4 out of 4

Brief Description: Minding The Gap is a beautiful and haunting documentary about the generational cycle of abuse through the lens of three skateboarders from Rockford, Illinois. Director Bing Liu set up his camera in front of his friends as we watch the extremely charismatic Zach and the thoughtful Kiere as we're painted a picture of life skateboarding in the middle of the country. Quickly we learn that the skateboarding is a way to mask the pain of the harsh reality. All three of of these boys have been physicallyu and emotionally abused, and it's soul crushing to watch how this abuse has manifested itself as these three boys become men. Bing uses the film as therapy whereas Zach turns to alcoholism and Kiere tries to push past it as a way to build a life for himself. Zach impregnates his young girlfriend and we see the cycle start all over again. You can watch the film exclusively on Hulu, and I highly recommend seeking this one out.

3) Vice
Written & Directed By: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, & Steve Carell
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: I love the fact that Vice has it's own unique style and that you can tell this is an Adam McKay feature. Besides the quick cuts to Jesse Plemmons as our narrator or a lion chasing down and killing a gazelle, you know you are watching an Adam McKay feature has he has an incredible knack for turning mundane history lessons into entertaining works of art. Dick Cheney the man is not very interesting, and is in fact very, very secretive, but by telling his rise parallel to the rise of the Republican Party and how they created the America we see today, we leave the theater is equal parts awe and disgust. I find any criticism that McKay ends up humanizing Dick Cheney or that we find sympathy for the man, because the film obviously loathes the man, but Adam McKay loathes someone in the only way he knows how: by making great movies.

4) Bad Times at the El Royale
Written & Directed By: Drew Goddard
Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges & Jon Hamm
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Brief Description: The less you know going into Bad Times at the El Royale, the more you'll enjoy it when you see it. So if you have not seen it, just know that it's a better, more interesting version of Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight set in a hotel in 1969. The film in and of itself is an allegory for the sixties itself as the CIA, cult leaders, and R&B singers get stuck with each other for one fateful night. The film is a white-knuckle ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat as Goddard's twist-laden script and brilliant performances keep you guessing, even though you know everyone has a secret. Jeff Bridges and newcomer Cynthia Erivo dazzle and keep you wanting more. The only reason Bad Times is not higher on my list is because I want to see it upon multiple viewings to see how it affects me. I absolutely adored The Hateful Eight on first viewing, but found it slow and dull upon multiple re-watches. I'm hoping the same fate doesn't befall Bad Times at the El Royale.

5) A Star Is Born
Co-Written & Directed By: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born is the best version of a classic Hollywood story (this version is the third remake) about a famous person on the decline falling in love with a famous person on the rise. In this version we get country rock singer Jackson Maine played exquisitely by Cooper. Jackson Maine may know how to play to a crowd, but he's an alcoholic and falling apart. That is until he meets Ally, played by Lady Gaga. An Ingenue with a beautiful voice but was told was too ugly to become a famous musician. Jackson Maine creates a hit song off of some random lyrics Ally sings to him, and voila, the hit "Shallow" is made. What comes next is equal parts entertaining and heartbreaking. Cooper's tight wire act of keeping the film earnest without falling into melodrama as Jackson and Ally fall deeper and deeper in love with each other is why A Star Is Born is one of the best films of 2018.

6) A Quiet Place
Co-Written & Directed By: John Krasinski
Starring: John Krasinski & Emily Blunt
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: I normally do not like horror films, but I've rarely seen a horror film as widely inventive and creative as A Quiet Place. From a pure technical aspect, this film is absolutely brilliant. The gimmick of the silence of this family to protect themselves from monsters who can hear but cannot see also works so well as a tension device. So much of horror is predicated on the score and the ability to use sound to (jump) scare you and A Quiet Place must find alternative methods to bring the chills. I also love how meta the film is. At the core of the movie is a man trying to protect his family which just so happens to star real life couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, who also have two kids IRL. It is a shame this film did not get more love at The Academy Awards, because I think it's absolutely magnificent.

7) The Favourite
Written By: Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, & Emma Stone
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: I ended up seeing The Favourite after immediately seeing Vice, and the two films ended up being great companion pieces about the wonderfully absurd things people will do to reach and maintain power. And make no mistake about it, The Favourite is wonderfully absurd. From its consistent use of the fish-eye lens to those in power claiming they need to raise taxes for a war as they sit in a bright, opulent palace, Lanthimos' musk on this film is oozing from the edges. His sensibilities shine through as characters played Weisz and Stone bitterly fight back-and-forth and they vie for the attention and ear of Queen Anne, played by Colman. This is a film that doesn't need men for these three smart and witty women can do anything a man can do, which is in part why this film drips with raw sexuality. The Favourite is obviously not for everybody, but it was one of my favorites of the year.

8) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Written & Directed By: The Coen Brothers
Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan & Brendan Gleeson
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology film split into six different parts which all tell the tale of the harsh realities and death of living in the Old West. I am generally not a fan of The Coen Brothers, in fact I actively dislike many of their films and find them to be overrated, but I'm absolutely infatuated with many of the characters and stories told through this Netflix epic. I found the segment "Meal Ticket" extremely haunting in which Liam Neeson sets up station from town to town as a limbless Harry Melling (most famously known as Harry Potter's cousin Dudley Dursley) recites beautiful poetry and soliloquies to the town folks, only to be shunned once Neeson's character funds something better. Or the segment "All Gold Canyon" where a prospector played by Tom Waits spends weeks and months searching for Gold, but at what cost. I found the first four segments better than the film's final two, but thought the film as a whole was one of the best of the year.

9) Eighth Grade
Written & Directed By: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: Bo Burnham got his start as a stand-up comedian singing funny songs and parodies right when YouTube was first getting big. The bigger YouTube got, the bigger Bo Burnham got- to the point where he can make his own film about the parallels of growing up in the YouTube age. In some ways, the film is a slice of life as a young, painfully introverted girl named Kayla Day spends her last week in eighth grade and hoping for the best as she enters high school. Kayla makes YouTube videos about how to be a better person to help her get by, but they're barely watched - kind of like Kayla's life. I find shy, inarticulate leads to be annoying, but there was something so specific about Fisher's performance that I just found it captivating (and of course seeing a little bit of myself in her).

10) Life of the Party
Co-Written & Directed By:
 Ben Falcone
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Gillian Jacobs, & Molly Gordon
STARS: 3 out of 4

Brief Description: Do you want to know what I want out of my comedies? To literally laugh out loud. Do you know what Life of the Party did to me. I literally laughed out loud. I know, I'm just as surprised as you are. Sure the premise is stale and cliche and this appears to be ANOTHER Melissa McCarthy movie, and maybe all of that is true. But you know what? I don't care, because this movie literally made me laugh out loud. I ended up stumbling upon it during an HBO re-run and couldn't stop myself from laughing. I even ended up re-watching most of the movie the next day to catch up what I missed, and ended up re-watching the entire thing because of just how funny the movie was. Sure a film like Blockers was also funny and had a better premise and a better message and was probably, objectively a better film. But do you wanna know what Life of the Party did that Blockers didn't do? Make me laugh out loud more. I know this flick isn't going to be for everyone, but hey, this is my list.