A Cinematic Review of 2018: Ten great films and five flops
The Oscars may have come and gone, but I’m still not quite ready to embrace the new cinematic year. So, as a final send-off, it seems fitting to reflect on the best and worst films that 2018 had to offer. A couple of caveats before I begin, though: 1) Rather than organizing these films into a meaningless ranking, I’ve arranged them alphabetically. However, I have bolded the titles of the best film and the worst film of 2018 (in my humble opinion). 2) There are plenty of films from 2018 that I would have loved to see but haven’t gotten a chance to, largely due to accessibility issues. If you don’t see one of your favorite films from last year on this list, assume that I wanted to see it, didn’t get the chance to and would have included it on this list if I had. That last part is total wishful thinking, but it will keep everyone marginally happy. As a disclaimer, I did see all the Best Picture nominees.
Ten Great Films:
“Annihilation” — At first glance, Alex Garland’s sci-fi-horror-thriller is about a group of five scientists who explore a mysterious alien presence known as the Shimmer. But dig a little deeper and it becomes the best film in recent years about loss, depression, loneliness, alienation, substance abuse, self-destruction and the existential horror of interpersonal relationships. One character describes the Shimmer as “nightmarish,” to which the protagonist responds, “Not always. Sometimes it was beautiful.” Much the same could be said of the film itself.
“BlackKklansman” — Simply put, the film that should have won Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. Spike Lee directs this intensely charged and often absurd story with a deft hand, helped along the way by two phenomenal lead performances by John David Washington and Adam Driver. Yet the film isn’t without its little artistic flourishes, imbuing the final product with a distinct energy that challenges the audience to appreciate how the horrors of the past inform the continuing horrors of the present.
“Black Panther” — Undoubtedly this is “the film” of 2018, and for good reason. The film had gargantuan expectations to live up to, yet somehow director Ryan Coogler managed to deliver, crafting a thoughtful, politically charged superhero film that also happens to be just plain fun. Alongside 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Black Panther” is not just the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but one of the very best superhero films. Ever.
“Crazy Rich Asians” — I would call this film “pure fun,” but that would be doing it a disservice. This classic tale of romance sparkles and glitters like a diamond, yet it also isn’t shy about addressing issues related to class, ethnicity and family loyalty. It sweeps you up with its lavish production, and leaves you wanting more thanks to endearing characters and performances.
“Eighth Grade” — Bo Burnham’s beautiful little film about a shy eighth grader seeking friendship is technically about the impact of social media, social anxiety, burgeoning sexuality amongst adolescents and so on. Yet this is not an “issue film” seeking to address these topics with a heavy hand. Indeed, few films are so non-judgmental to their characters, observing them always with remarkable love and compassion. Plus, Elsie Fisher in the lead role proves to be one of the best performances from a child actor that I’ve ever seen.
“The Hate U Give” — Somehow the best film of 2018 appeared to be largely forgotten by the year’s end. I can only speculate as to why, but I suspect “The Hate U Give” was just a little too raw and a little too on-the-nose for general audiences. This is a taut, beautiful, heartbreaking, funny and deeply thoughtful film and it would be a crime if it gets buried in the landfill of forgotten cinema. See it if you haven’t already.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” — Barry Jenkins continues to produce poetic work that resonates on both an emotional and intellectual level. “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a worthy follow-up to “Moonlight,” a stunning exploration of both cinematic form and content.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” — I never cry during movies. This one made me cry twice. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is silly, contrived, unspeakably nonsensical and absolutely everything that cinema should be. I don’t care how dumb it is; all I know is that when I watch it, my heart soars.
“A Quiet Place” — Possibly the most well-crafted film on this list, “A Quiet Place” takes an intriguing B-movie premise and elevates it immensely with top-notch performances and tight, exacting filmmaking. No film this year kept me on the edge of my seat as much as this one.
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” — 2018’s best animated film also happened to be the best Spider-man film … ever. The animation is spectacular, but the film’s real home run is its engaging characters and emotionally-resonant storyline. Also, John Mulaney as the voice of Spider-Pig doesn’t hurt.
Five Not-So-Great Films
“Fifty Shades Freed” — I initially felt kind of badly including this film considering how the “Fifty Shades” franchise has become less of a film series and more of a cheap punchline. But then I remembered how bored I was by the final entry in this narrative about petty arguments, abusive relationships and “kink.” I no longer feel badly.
“Mute” — This is what happens when your potentially intriguing, deeply personal passion project lingers in development hell for years. The script for “Mute” might have once been good, but the final product is so misguided that it’s hard to imagine the sort of artistic crash and burn that must have occurred in the interim.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” — This is neither the most offensive or most boring film on this list. But it might be the one that fascinates me the most. Like, who asked for this? Who thought that a garish, Tim Burton-inspired adaption of “The Nutcracker” released in November was a sure-fire family-friendly hit? Not me and not anyone who saw it, apparently.
“The Predator” — Shane Black’s fourth entry in this hit-or-miss sci-fi-thriller franchise is ugly to its very core, managing to somehow be sexist, racist and homophobic all in equal measure. Often films bore me. Sometimes films annoy me. But it’s incredibly rare for a film to anger me. But “The Predator” wriggled its way under my skin, poisoning my soul with a wrath that I reserve for the very worst of the worst.
“Ready Player One” — 2018’s prize for the most wasted potential goes to Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s popular book about a dystopic Easter Egg hunt inside a virtual reality world called the Oasis. Spielberg remains one of our most adept filmmakers and the design of the Oasis itself is great, but the story remains a parade of hollow, aimless nostalgia, valuing meaningless trivia over lessons, morals or themes.