Today is the day of the LA Marathon, so it seems natural for someone in my physical condition to observe this sacred day by staying inside and watching movies. Besides, isn’t that the real Los Angeles tradition?
Below, please find this blog’s long awaited (by me at least) best of 2018 film list. As usual, the films will be arranged generally, with the best at the top and the worst at the bottom. That means the film on top is not necessarily the best film of the year; it just happens to be better than most of what’s underneath it. Likewise, the film at the bottom is not necessarily the worst film of the year, although one could do a lot better.
Annihilation: Who would have thought that “thoughtful” and “big-budget sci fi” would go together? Alex Gardland, apparently. This is a visually striking film that tells little but shows much. Its solid cast is up for the intelligent script.
First Reformed: The always interesting writer-director Paul Schrader turns out a very interesting metaphysically-informed thriller. A brilliant cast (including Cedric the Entertainer) tackle the film’s myriad themes, and the deep topics are matched by deep photography. Definitely worth repeated viewings.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Oh Coen brothers, have you ever make a truly bad film? I haven’t seen it so far. This smart, stylish pulp Western(s) is sometimes surreal, sometimes even a little deeper than that, but always that beautiful mix of intelligent thriller and dark Coen comedy.
Unsane: A smart, compact thriller that tries to tackle “mental health in horror” from a novel–perhaps even necessary–direction. Clair Foy’s controlled performance is perfect for such a paranoid film.
Thoroughbreds: Can we count this as a 2018 release? I’m going to. It’s my blog, and this is a great film. It’s stylishly shot, excellently cast (the leads are two of the smartest contemporary scream queens), with a script that leaves audiences with lots to talk about without overstaying its welcome.
Stan and Ollie: This is a quaint and comfortable bio-flick, perfectly designed for classic film fans. Perfectly cast, especially Steve Coogan and John C. Riley, who seem to live their roles. Plus, the always watchable Danny Huston.
Game Night: More stylish than you’d expect, this well cast comedy thriller is solidly funny. Plus, Danny Huston again (in a small role. Again).
A Quiet Place: Although not quite as clever as it thinks, this survival horror flick is handsome, well performed and pretty darn smart. Fantastic performance from Emily Blunt, but ain’t they all?
Rampage: If you want to see only one overly produced video game sci fi last summer, make it this one. The pulpy story doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s bolstered by some smooth, and surprisingly violent, special effects and a sly, enjoyable Jeffrey Dean Morgan performance.
Black Panther: Sure, it falls apart a bit in the third act, but most comic book movies do. Before that, the film smartly tackles race, responsibility and statecraft—what’s the last comic book movie you saw that tackled statecraft? Throw in a surprisingly smart and sympathetic villain, and I’m perfectly satisfied.
Hereditary: This year’s “smartest horror movie,” it is a smart horror movie, and subtle and well cast, but the overall effect is that it’s trying a little harder than it has to.
The Predator: It’s not that bad, people. It’s also not great, but the fun cast has fun with a funny Shane Black script, which is undermined by a bit of convenience and a sequelicious ending. Delightfully violent, although the SFX sometimes craps out (you know the drill–good practical, hit-and-miss CGI).
Hold the Dark: Interesting, atmospheric arctic thriller that perhaps never quite lives up to its potential, although it has a lot of downbeat intrigue along the way.
Spinning Man: Not great, but a smart and servicable murder thriller–and timely, given its academic setting. It’s literate and well acted, although oddly photographed sometimes.
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead: This brilliantly constructed, and sometimes even touching, Orson Welles documentary is probably a better film than the film it documents.
Malevolent: Nothing you haven’t seen before, but this quiet haunted house film starts very strong–nicely acted, smartly written and well photographed. Then it lurches uncomfortably from thoughtful psychological horror into messy slasher for the third act. Oh well.
Bird Box: Well-made and watchable, this post-apocalyptic/wannabe psychological horror film is never as good as its own high concept.
Super Troopers 2: If you liked the first “Super Troopers,” you will probably appreciate the second one. I liked the first one. Spoiler: Farva finally gets his liter of cola.
Looking Glass: Another case of “people, it’s not that bad.” This abnormal thriller sits somewhere between sorta neo-noir and not quite surreal. It’s well photographed, stylishly lit and acted just fine.
Any Bullet Will Do: A fun but familiar script for a pulpy Western with a game cast and cool nature photography.
Avengers Infinity War: Exactly what is says on the label. Big, loud, everyone kills everyone else. You want spectacle, you can do far worse.
Deadpool 2: Josh Brolin is great to watch, isn’t he? Almost no one else could say, “The name’s Cable,” and say it with conviction, a straight face and, somehow, a sense of humor. I genuinely believed that man’s name was Cable. As for the whole film, it works, but nothing’s as fresh the second time around.
Ocean’s Eight: It’s a caper picture. It’s clever and funny and whatnot, and the cast seems to be having fun as well. If you’re up for a caper picture that doesn’t do too much else, you probably will too. Great soundtrack though,
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: Decent enough candy cane flavored fantasy. Great design, although both Matthew Macfayden and Morgan Freeman aren’t given enough to do. Kirea Knightley looks like she’s enjoying herself though.
Tag: This based-on-a-true-story men-behaving-like-boys comedy is about as good as it could be, all things considered, thanks to a talented cast that carries the admittedly slim premise as far as it can go.
Billionaire Boys Club: A stylish, servicable financial thriller. For better or for worse, Kevin Spacey is probably the best part of the movie.
Ready Player One: Fun to look at–both for spectacle and catch-the-pop-culture-reference–and sometimes quite fun, but at two hours and 20 minutes you will be looking for a long time. A few too many endings for its own good.
Hotel Artemis: A smart, stylish and well cast dystopian thriller that takes itself a little too seriously at the end.
You Were Never Really Here: This violent and cerebral crime drama is great to look at and is built in an intriguing narrative, but is it just style over substance? Well, do we care? Not really, and that’s part of the problem getting into the film.
The Other Side of the Wind: An interesting experiment, but far from Orson Welles’s best. Still, what can you expect from a movie that took decades to edit? Besides, how often do we get to see a new Welles film?
10×10: This psychological thriller has a good cast and is well photographed, but its twisted abduction premise is nothing you haven’t seen before.
Down a Dark Hall: Nicely atmospheric–too dark at times, but at least it makes sense in the plot–and well photographed, but this tale of a haunted school for girls is brought down in the third act by a muddled script.
The Princess Switch: A pretty boilerplate Yuletide romantic comedy. If there’s anything innovative about it, it’s that it adds smartphones to “The Prisoner of Zenda.”
Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom: Better looking. Worse script. The plot is built out of increasingly ludicrous plot contrivances. However, it is the most Gothic of the franchise so far, thanks to director J. A. Bayona. I don’t know why Jeff Goldblum is in this film. Maybe he doesn’t either.
Bad Samaritan: A passable but forgettable thriller that feels oddly “Lifetime original.” Strangely enough, it actually improves in the third act, where we finally get to see David Tennant’s controlled crazy in action.
Wrinkle in Time: There’s always a danger when translating a book to the screen–it can turn out too thin or too overstuffed. This is overstuffed. A few successfully atmospheric moments and a good supporting cast can’t make up for the hollowness of the film.
Skyscraper: Dwayne Johnson does better than this movie deserves. It’s like “Die Hard” only in a building. Wait a second… Just watch “Rampage” instead.
The Commuter: It’s Liam Neeson on a train. You can probably figure out the film from there. You’ve seen it before, and you’ve seen it tighter than this.
When We First Met: A silly little time travel comedy that doesn’t try very hard and succeeds at it.
Winchester: Not the worst film of the year, despite its early release date, but very far from the best. Great sets and costumes can’t quite mask the script’s anachronisms. The brooding atmosphere is spoiled by a reliance on unexciting jump scares.
Apostle: Sometimes strikingly well photographed, this horror film is nevertheless too thin, too long and too unrelatable. Like a cross between “The Witch” and the “The Wicker Man” except not as good as either. At least the villains seem to be having fun.
Tomb Raider: An excellent cast is wasted on a brainless, big budget action thriller that’s built on so many coincidences Charles Dickens would blush.
Ouija House: This well intentioned horror thriller has good photography considering its budget, but that can’t make up for its shallow script–or for the fact that people spelling words out loud letter by letter does not make for great cinema.
Little Stranger: A disappointing period haunted house story. Good impressionistic photography, but the atmosphere falls flat since there’s no investment in the characters, and any thrills fall flat since glaciers move faster.
Slender Man: A waste of celluloid, but what did you expect? Disappointing, somewhat murky story that’s only notable for what it could have been. Poor direction and special effects.
Alcatraz: Uninteresting and anachronistic. I could deal with one or the other, but not both at the same time. Track down this prison escape indie only if you enjoy watching grown men in blue jumpsuits shout at each other.
Game Over Man: Is this one “Die Hard” in a building…for the College Humor crowd? A raunchy first scene elicits some laughs from the high schooler in us all, but it sets the bar so low the talented cast spends the rest of the film tripping over it.
Curse of the Mayans: This indie thriller feels very much like an “Ancient Aliens” inspired vanity project. The scenes with costumed Mayans dancing are sensitively shot. Just about everything else, including the seemingly endless diving scenes…are not.
The Cloverfield Paradox: We started with an ambitious sci fi thriller, so we might as well end with one. The only difference between this and “Annihilation” is almost everything. Decent cast tries hard with stupid, crappy script. Just re-watch “Event Horizon” instead.
I can’t believe I still haven’t seen “The Favourite,” “Bad Times at the El Royale” or the new “Suspiria,” and I really can’t believe that I still want to see “Venom”…