The best (and worst) movies of 2018
This year’s slate of movies had everything from period drama to surreal satire and horrors of all kinds (a haunted family, the perils of middle school). Here, EW critics Chris Nashawaty and Leah Greenblatt each lay out their 10 favorite films of the year…and the five they didn’t love quite so much.
CHRIS’ LIST: 10. Mandy
We’ve officially entered the late-baroque stage of Nicolas Cage’s career, where too much acting can never be enough acting. Hollywood’s most over-the-top star finally found the perfect vehicle: the gonzo revenge fever dream Mandy. If you want to see Cage on a drug-fueled bender of blood-soaked chainsaw payback after his girlfriend is kidnapped by a band of doomsday Jesus freaks, this is the cult-movie ticket. Mandy is proof, if any was really needed, that there is indeed a method to Cage’s madness.
9. Green Book
Green Book literally couldn’t be more black-and-white. It’s not subtle, the bada-bing-versus-uptight-artiste clichés seem bought by the ton, and its Guess Who’s Coming to Italian Christmas Dinner finale is emotionally manipulative and feel-good. And yet…I fell for it. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali’s note-perfect performances ground the more sentimental moments with real heft. The word crowd-pleaser somehow became a four-letter pejorative. Green Book is a crowd-pleaser, to be sure. But in the best possible sense.
8. First Man
Damien Chazelle’s last two movies — 2014’s Whiplash
and 2016’s La La Land — were my No. 1 movies of their respective years. His Neil Armstrong biopic First Man didn’t quite merit a trifecta, but it’s still one of 2018’s most transcendent achievements. Ryan Gosling plays Armstrong with an interior unknowability. His “giant leap for mankind” doesn’t come until late, but Chazelle tells us volumes about
the special breed of men who abandoned their families and the bonds of Earth to reach for the heavens.
7. Sorry to Bother You
Not only was Sorry to Bother You one of the funniest comedies of the year, it was the most original. Written and directed by Bay Area rapper-activist Boots Riley, this bizarre satire of race, class, and the media was a gonzo riff on our WTF moment, led by Lakeith Stanfield (who, between this and Get Out, has
a knack for zeitgeisty projects) as a telemarketer who climbs the ladder by adopting a “white voice.” Riley throws everything at the screen (arms trafficking, black identity, an army of horse/men slaves) — and miraculously manages to make it all stick.
6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
In a year when superheroes ruled the box office, the best of the bunch didn’t wear spandex. In his sixth outing as the ageless IMF ringleader Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise gave a master class in the still-thrilling possibilities of the summer blockbuster. He’s become a skydiving, cliff-hanging, bathroom-brawling antidote to franchise fatigue. Thanks to Cruise and his insatiable, top-this daredevil ethos, Mission: Impossible has become the rare (the only?) series that somehow manages to get better, twistier, and more deliriously fun with each installment.
5. Paddington 2
Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are. But after watching everyone’s favorite talking bear in a blue coat, I felt like a kid again. Any movie can pull at your heartstrings, but the wonder of Paddington 2 is how clever its universe was. Between its Rube Goldberg diorama sets and eye-candy palette, it felt like the best Wes Anderson movie Wes Anderson never made. The plot — Paddington sets out to buy an antique pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy — is as slight as meringue. But the film’s fizzy, fuzzy execution was as delicious as a marmalade sandwich.
4. Eighth Grade
Being a teenager is a circle of hell that no one would want to relive. Especially today, with the mean-spirited digital scrum of social media. Kayla Day (played by newcomer Elsie Fisher) is a typical American 13-year-old girl, struggling to navigate the daily humiliations of adolescence. Awkward, shy, and trying so hard to fit in that she can’t recognize her own specialness, Kayla isn’t unique. She’s all of us at that age. Writer-director Bo Burnham captures the self-consciousness of eighth grade with an uncanny sense of humanity.
3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
In a year of division, leave it to a soft-spoken man in a cardigan to offer a balm for our wounded national psyche. Morgan Neville’s documentary about Fred Rogers, the face behind the PBS kids’ show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was timely — a much-needed plea for compassion, inclusivity, and empathy. An intimate profile of a man who beamed childlike innocence into our living rooms for decades, this film was a reminder that even in troubled times (especially in troubled times), we can all be better —and kinder.
Based on director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in the Mexico City neighborhood that lends this exquisite film its title, Roma is a love letter shot in the dreamy black and white of a long-lost home movie. Chronicling the daily life of one family in the turbulent ’70s, Cuarón’s lyrical memory play is, at its heart, about a compassionately selfless woman — a maid named Cleo — who becomes the glue holding a fraying family together. Played with soulful grace by Yalitza Aparicio, Cleo is, hands down, the year’s most unforgettable character.
1. The Favourite
If there’s a movie genre that’s more burdened by propriety and predictability than the British royals period drama, I haven’t met it yet. But Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite takes all that stuffy fustiness and chucks it out the palace window, goosing its take on the scheming court of Queen Anne with hilariously bitter venom. It’s a modern-day viper’s nest, peppered with sex, betrayal, and some of the bitchiest put-downs since Bette Davis dragged on a cigarette and rolled her eyes in All About Eve. Fueled by a trio of powerhouse performances from Olivia Colman (as the bored, daffy queen), Rachel Weisz (as her territorial confidante), and Emma Stone (as the plotting ingenue), The Favourite is a 300-year-old slice of speculative history with a refreshingly feminist twist that somehow feels miraculously naughty and new.
LEAH’S LIST: 10. The Guilty
Denmark must like their movies like they like their furniture: clean, streamlined, without an ounce of unnecessary adornment. The Guilty lays out its setting in the starkest terms: just a man, a desk, and a telephone. Police officer Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren) is impatiently fielding the usual run of drunk bicyclists and bar fights on the overnight emergency line when a call comes in from a sobbing, terrified woman. Working on the knife’s edge of 90 minutes, Guilty moves inexorably toward its final moments — a series of bombshell revelations that much more earned for all the glorious restraint that came before.
9. Free Solo
It’s hard sometimes to make the case for seeing a documentary on a big screen; not Free Solo, whose breath-stopping cinematography feels like a timely reminder from Mother Nature that She invented shock and awe. Cameras swoop from bedside intimacy to monster mountain scale as they follow Alex Honnold — an obsessively focused “free climber” determined to be the first to take on Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes or safety gear. The movie’s insight into his psyche is both subtle and acute; the tension of the ascent itself as electrifying as any helicopter-swinging Mission: Impossible set piece.
Edgar Allan Poe had his tell-tale heart under the floorboards; director Ari Aster has the thock. It’s just a tic, the low pop of a little girl’s tongue against the roof of her mouth. But it haunts Hereditary, and the private 3 a.m. screening room in your mind. Aster’s tale of a suburban artist-slash-housewife (an excellently unhinged Toni Collette) whose household becomes increasingly disturbed after the death of her elderly mother lays its dread out like a lead blanket: One moment, it’s a dead bird’s head in a box; the next, it might just be a direct line to Satan. Sleep tight!
Boy meets girl; girl meets other boy; but do any of them really know each other at all? Much of what viewers will ever learn about the combustible love triangle at the center of Lee Chang-dong’s enigmatic Korean-language thriller is never fully uncovered or explained. Instead, the prize-winning auteur (Poetry, Secret Sunshine) has crafted a low-smoldering, insidiously affecting portrait of class, romance, and emotional ambiguity in modern Seoul, anchored by a truly unforgettable performance from Walking Dead star Steven Yeun.
6. Green Book
As odd-couple friendships go, Green Book’s real-life duo belong in the meet-cute hall of fame: an all-id meatball from the Bronx (Viggo Mortensen) and a silk-robed aesthete with a string of honorary Ph.D.s (Mahershala Ali). That one is white and the other black seems almost incidental to their bigger differences, though of course it’s central to the plot in director Peter Farrelly’s circa-1962 road-trip dramedy — a movie so shamelessly, endearingly crowd-pleasing it feels like a full-body bear hug.
5. Lean On Pete
Andrew Haigh’s movies have always been marked by a sort of startling intimacy, from the two-night-stand stunner Weekend to the devastating autopsy of a marriage 45 Years. Lean on Pete offers the British director a far broader palette than he’s worked with before: the wide-open American West. But this tale of a neglected boy (Charlie Plummer) who finds communion with a worn-down quarter horse is really just another type of love story — the kind of quietly revelatory filmmaking whose raw-boned beauty lands like a bruise, and lingers long after.
A mind-blowing black rainbow of sci-fi crazy-osity, Annihilation tracks five women — including Natalie Portman’s hard-driving biology professor and Tessa Thompson’s shy astrophysicist — as they attempt to crack the mysteries of the Shimmer, a supernatural force field whose strange vibrations seem to alter the genetic codes of everything it touches. Yes, it’s gratifying that nearly every scene passes the Bechdel test, but the film is much more than an exercise; frame by frame, it offered the most visually and conceptually thrilling movie experience this year.
3. Black Panther
“My son, it is your time.” Technically, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) only meant that T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was ready to ascend to his late father’s place on the throne of Wakanda, but her words were freighted with larger meaning at the multiplex. In a year that saw a raft of freshly subversive takes on the black experience (BlacKkKlansman, Sorry to Bother You), Panther felt like nothing less than pure celebration — the template superhero story recast as a joyful and deeply personal narrative of pride, place, and political identity.
The man who explored the outer limits of space in Gravity and the grim prospect of humanity’s end in the grayscale dystopia Children of Men turns to the intimate, infinite interior in Roma, a movie that may just be his masterpiece. Director Alfonso Cuarón has said that Roma‘s loose approximation of plot is drawn from his own childhood in early-1970s Mexico; but the movie’s heart and soul is its unassuming star, Yalitza Apari-cio. As Cleo, a household maid and sort of supplementary mother to her affectionately oblivious young charges, she cooks and cleans and hangs laundry on the roof. Her life is utterly ordinary — and in Cuarón’s compassionate, exquisitely intuitive hands, the cumulative effect is nothing less than extraordinary.
1. The Favourite
Like a Merchant-Ivory movie directed by Salvador Dalí, The Favourite feels both canon-classic and fantastically surreal: a bravura piece of filmmaking so bracingly fresh and original, it nearly invents its own genre. You might not actually want to live in Yorgos Lanthimos’ sticky tar pit of palace intrigue — a place where Olivia Colman’s batty queen can’t trust anyone beyond her pet rabbits, and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone treat loyalty like a blood sport — but God, it’s fun as hell to visit.
The Worst Movies of 2018: 5. The Cloverfield Paradox
Netflix had a great year. Especially if you block out this viral event in which Chris O’Dowd’s severed arm gave the best performance. Slapping the Cloverfield tag on this sci-fi turd was 2018’s version of putting lipstick on a pig. —CN
Somewhere between the Kaiju-size plotholes and Tom Hardy talking like he’s on his fifth failed audition for CSI:Staten Island, you start to wonder if Venom is secretly a comedy. If so, bravo, Marvel gods! You played us all. —LG
John Travolta’s turn as the Teflon Don isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. But the rest of this laughably amateurish, forehead-slapping mafioso fiasco was (and then some). —CN
2. Life Itself
From the creator This Is Us, an overstuffed, underbaked turducken of all-star melodrama (Oscar Isaac and Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas, why??) that should have been called This Is Insufferable. —LG
1. Fifty Shades Freed
The third and, thank Christ, final chapter in this trilogy went out with a whimper and a bang or two — one of which even managed to turn us off late-night ice cream binges forever. —CN
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