Marcelo's Top Ten Movies of 2018
Personally, it was a decent 2018 for me. Some good news and individual advancement mixed with the usual bad vibes. And hey, it was another great year for movies… Actually, it’s always a great year for movies, you just have to know where to look.
Do you want an honest, heartfelt look at skating life? If you didn’t like Mid90s, there’s the sensational Skate Kitchen and the introspective documentary Minding the Gap.
Want indies with incredible musical numbers? Hearts Beat Loud and Anna & the Apocalypse have the goods.
In need of smart takedowns of the white establishment? If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother You, and BlacKkKlansman have you covered.
Don’t care for Venom? The similarly-themed, body-control sci-fi movie Upgrade is right there for you.
Weren’t happy with Boy Erased? The Education of Cameron Post takes the same essential premise and views it from a better, more personal perspective.
Want a comedy with two strong female leads? Well you have two with Never Goin’ Back and The Spy Who Dumped Me.
One of the best action films in years is currently on Netflix, The Night Comes for Us.
What about a dark, political comedy that went under the radar? The Oath, from first-time director Ike Barinholtz, hopefully should find an audience in the future because the audience it deserved sure didn’t show up when it was released a few months ago.
We were all subjugated to several blaise blockbusters as usual, but that ones that stood out came from familiar places — Avengers: Infinity War took a vice to your heart, making you care for those characters you’ve been following for the last ten years, while Black Panther is a gamechanger, taking huge leaps forward in representation, showing what talanted filmmakers can bring to big budget tentpoles. And neither of those were the best superhero movies of the year either.
It was all where you looked; and I had a tough time narrowing down my top ten, as usual. So before I even talk about “the best” here are some honorable mentions.
Alfonso Cuarón’s portrait of a family and their maid, all undergoing tumultuous change, set in 1970s Mexico City, is at first glance more style and presentation over anything. Cuarón, as both director and cinematographer, certainly offers up breathtaking imagery, with sweeping vistas and violent political riots filmed with precision in striking black and white. There’s a distance there — the camera constantly dollys side to side, purposefully, never pushing forward. But the emotion comes from the little moments each character experiences with each other and with every line spoken. Forget where or how to see it, just see it.
The last film that captured the dying spirit of America this well was Jackie, also starring Natalie Portman. Vox Lux removes any romanticism within this story of the birth of a pop star — Portman’s Celeste is born in blood, a survivor of a school shooting who unwittingly uses the tragedy to kick-start her singing career. She goes to embrace the violent nature of America as it leads her, and those around her, to complete destruction. The film is disjointed, jumping through moments of her early career, before chronicling a day in her adult life. Its themes splinter, but in the end it becomes a haunting vision of what America aspires to be and is.
A Simple Favor
“I think loneliness probably kills more people than cancer.”
What we need more of in these dark times are erotic thrillers. Sure there was Red Sparrow, a trashy, De Palma-esque ‘80s throwback. We also had A Simple Favor, the martini to Red Sparrow’s cheap beer (both quench your thirst, mind you). Classy, like director Paul Feig’s signature wardrobe, and hilarious, the twisty-turny mystery has a dark streak of sexual energy running through it — thanks to both Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Like Kendrick’s character, there’s are secrets hiding behind the innocent facade of A Simple Favor. Touching on quite a few soft spots for me, including having strong female characters and whodunit detective work, A Simple Favor has fast become a personal favorite of mine.
The Hate U Give
Amandla Stenberg is a bonafide star, that one thing is clear after watching The Hate U Give. Playing Starr Carter, a 16-year-old black girl who has to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders after watching her friend get gunned down by a cop and who then has to testify in front of a grand jury to recount her story, she goes through the emotional gauntlet. It’s an important story, too; about being black in America and dealing with a system that wants to see them fail, from all sides. Through all the darkness, there’s a hopeful message that resonates, and that’s something we need in 2018 and beyond.
Nicole Kidman gives another career-high performance in Karyn Kusama’s gritty crime film Destroyer. While it wears its influences of male-driven dramas on its sleeve (Heat, to name just one), it takes a more intimate approach with its strung-out protagonist. Memories reside deep; the past comes back to haunt Kidman’s Erin Bell and Kusama structures the story in a familiar way. It turns out to be one of the best structured films of the years, with a narrative loop that packs one of the best emotional gut punches of the year.
A film I initially hated when I first watched it has become one that hasn’t left my mind since. It took a rewatch for me to start to come around to it, and it took a third viewing for me to come to terms with just how much of a deranged masterpiece it is. It’s far from the lazy horror remake everyone was dreading when this was first announced. Luca Guadagnino’s take on the classic turned out to be more of a grand statement of politics today, seen through the violent lens of Germany in 1977. It was fitting that one of my viewings of this took place on Election Day and the culling during the film’s finale felt just a bit more cathartic. Let’s carry that energy into 2019.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse / Mandy
The best superhero film of the year, without question, offers up a new take on character we’ve seen plenty of over the last 16 years — and especially in 2018 where he appeared in the biggest crossover event of the year while also having his own stellar video game. We know Spider-Man, we know Peter Parker, but what Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does so well is not only making us once again care about Parker(s) but also it makes us fall in love with a new Spider-Man, Miles Morales. It’s a huge step forward in representation, and it’s also a massive achievement in animation, mixing various styles to create visual storytelling that defies any medium you want to put it in.
Only Mandy — another trippy, 2018 Nicolas Cage film — was able to come close to topping the visual feast Spider-Verse presented. Panos Cosmatos’ acid trip to Hell is one of those “you have to see it to believe it” films; first offering a deliberately slow mood piece, right before Cage’s character ingests so many drugs on a wild, revenge murder spree that you start seeing the world unravel right along with him. And it’s no cakewalk, just-another-paycheck gig for Cage either — you see the softer side of the actor as well as the crazy-as-all-shit Cage. It’s a kitchen sink movie, like Spider-Verse, giving you the sink and everything in the damn house.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? / Blindspotting
Friendship is at the center of both Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Blindspotting. In Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy’s Lee Israel meets and shares in her hate of the bougie, upper-class in early ‘90s New York City with Richard E. Grant’s Jack Hock. It’s an unlikely friendship, as Israel is a loner — bitter that her work has gone unappreciated. Hock, like Israel, drinks to excess, and he helps her in her forgery scam she would eventually be infamous for. Director Marielle Heller’s film is painful in how truthful it feels; the performances from McCarthy and Grant make for one of the best pairings of the year. It’s honest in its based-on-a-true-story telling, being upfront and not letting the fictionalized Israel off as easy as other biopics would.
Blindspotting also features a struggling artist and a grifter at heart both bound in friendship over their hate for the rising, upper-class. Set in present day Oakland, Daveed Diggs’ Collin and Rafael Casal’s Miles (both actors also serving as writers) have been friends since childhood. Collin is a convicted felon and a black man living in America; the system already has it out for him, and he’s trying survive the last three days of his probation. Miles, his white friend, has the soul of Oakland pulsing through him, but his short-temper might get him and Collin into trouble. Identity plays a huge role in Blindspotting, and it all pays off in one of the most cathartic moments of the year. You may not always get the best of friends, but they are your friends, and it’s in that honesty that both films work so well.
A Star is Born / First Man
“Tell me something, boy, aren't you tired tryin' to fill that void? Or do you need more, ain't it hard keeping it so hardcore?”
Two stories about men in desperate need of help, but who go about finding it in the wrong way. Damien Chazelle’s First Man is a more fictionalized and deeply intimate than you’d expect in a biopic of Neil Armstrong. This is no America-first, rah-rah celebration; Ryan Gosling’s Armstrong is haunted by his young daughter’s death, which is shown early in the film. From there, we see Armstrong break down briefly before repressing his emotions and focusing on NASA’s Gemini and Apollo missions. Armstrong’s wife, Janet, played by Claire Foy, refuses to be the typical, supportive wife, and in one of the best performances of the year, makes it clear she’s surrounded by “a bunch of boys.” It all leads to one of the most beautiful moments of 2018. The moon landing itself is equal parts daunting and magical, thanks to Justin Hurwitz’s indelible score. Possibly the biggest achievement of man is boiled down to a tale of one man determined to fill that void.
A Star is Born offers up moments just as powerful as the moon landing, thanks to the one-and-only Lady Gaga. First-time director Bradley Cooper knows just when to step back and let Gaga take center stage. Cooper’s Jackson Maine is the catalyst for Gaga’s Ally’s success, always lifting her up. Maine, an alcoholic, drug addicted country singer, is bottoming out, but he finds possible salvation in Ally. It’s tragic Hollywood story, one as old as time. It doesn’t try to change the dynamics of the original 1937 film and what ultimately saves the movie is Lady Gaga. Maine’s self-destruction is inevitable and when it all ends like we fully expect it to end, Gaga’s final performance, regardless of what came before, is one for the ages.
Annihilation / Mission: Impossible – Fallout
“Normally, when people refer to you as your own worst enemy, it’s just a figure of speech.”
In Annihilation, Natalie Portman’s Lena goes on an expedition with a team of scientists into the “Shimmer”, an area where a meteor has landed and created bizarre, alien presence. Lena’s husband is the lone survivor of the previous expedition and Lena hopes to find answers within. But what’s driving her is guilt; through flashbacks we see how her past actions are influencing her current quest into the unknown. Alex Garland’s adaptation of the novel by the same name may not share much in common with its source material, which makes room for Garland’s unique, sci-fi horror vision. It’s a startling take on all sides of self-harm, embodied at one point by a cross-species killer bear and Lena literally fighting herself in one of the most bizarre and brilliant endings ever.
Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt also deals with guilt in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, where he’s constantly haunted by his past mistakes and his only course of action is to risk life and limb to save the day, his friends, and himself. Fallout is driven by its emotional underpinnings more than any other entry in the long-running franchise. Hunt is capable of the impossible and for the first time we truly know why he chooses to jump out of airplanes and play chicken with helicopters. In bringing back a key part of the franchise — the lovely Michelle Monaghan as Julia — we’re fully aware of just how selfless Hunt is, bringing a new shade to a character and a series that has not worn out its welcome six movies in. With all that being said, its action set pieces alone make it worthy of a top ten appearance, but this being me and Mission: Impossible it was bound to happen one way or another.
Revenge / Unsane
Writer-director Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is a brutal rape-revenge film. But what sets it apart from any other film in its genre is how it shifts the perspective; the female gaze lifts its protagonist and brutalizes its male villains appropriately. Add to that Cronenbergian body horror that is as shocking as it is smart. Visually, it’s stunning; set in the middle of a desert, Revenge presents gorgeous vistas this side of Sergio Leone and, like when the peyote hits Matilda Lutz’s Jen in the middle of the movie, the colors are so vibrant that the gallons of blood shed seem redder than humanly possible. It’s one of the best-directed films of the year and it’s a true shame Fargeat isn’t making huge waves in America right now; hers is a voice we need to hear more of in this day and age.
Steven Soderbergh’s voice, for the three decades he’s been working, has evolved several times. Sure, after his short retirement, he came back with the traditional, Ocean’s-esque caper Logan Lucky. But, the Oscar-winning director has been eager to break the boundaries of storytelling for sometime now — just watch The Knick and the Mosaic app to get a sense of Soderbergh’s current trajectory. With Unsane, Soderbergh puts another strong female character at the center of his story, and once again redefines his cinematic style, shooting with an iPhone and working in a new genre, horror, and mastering it. Claire Foy’s Sawyer is out to demolish two systems — the corrupt medical insurance machine and the insecure patriarchy. It’s delightful to see Sawyer and Soderbergh destroy both with well placed slices to the jugular. What a way to celebrate 2018 in film.