THE 20 BEST FILMS OF 2018 SO FAR
The 20 Best Films Of 2018 So Far
By Rafer Guzmán, Newsday (TNS) – 7-9-18
Even if 2018 ended right now, it would have been a very good year for the movies.
For starters, the amazing Disney machine continues to put out intelligent, high-quality, even socially impactful blockbusters. Granted, Disney-Lucasfilm stumbled with its ill-considered Han Solo prequel, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which took its lumps at the box office, but Disney-Marvel triumphed with the groundbreaking “Black Panther” and the emotionally resonant “Avengers: Infinity War.” Culturally speaking, Disney’s stock is up.
The past six months have also been a great time for independent and small-budget movies, notably the art-house horror film “Hereditary,” the Brooklyn-based drama “Hearts Beat Loud” and Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone-made thriller “Unsane.” A new documentary on Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” already seems like an Oscar front-runner, followed, perhaps, by “RBG,” a film as slight and endearing as its subject, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And speaking of Oscars, we’ve already seen at least one award-worthy performance, from Ethan Hawke as a troubled pastor, in Paul Schrader’s enigmatic drama “First Reformed.”
Where Hollywood still falters is in its attempts to female-ize existing properties. Case in point: “Ocean’s 8,” which has done well at the box office but still feels like the new “Ghostbusters.” The better female-led movies have been original material, such as “Annihilation,” about a squad of women soldiers venturing into a quarantined zone, and “Tomb Raider,” a reboot of the Angelina Jolie franchise featuring an impressive Alicia Vikander in the lead. The notion of a “Jane Bond” is starting to sound far less promising than, say, “355,” a writtenfrom-scratch espionage thriller with Jessica Chastain that is currently heading toward production. With the prestige-season months of November and December still far ahead of us, there’s should be plenty more to see. For now, here’s a look back at the best (and worst) of 2018:
1 “Hereditary” (4 stars) Ari Aster’s polarizing horror film, starring Toni Collette and Alex Wolff as a mother and son living under a curse, earned a dismal D+ CinemaScore from audiences, but it has also become a critical smash and a sleeper hit at the box office. Here’s one opinion: It’s a flat-out masterpiece. But you’ll never know unless you go.
2 “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (4 stars) The latest documentary from Morgan Neville (the Oscar-winning “20 Feet From Stardom”) looks back at the late Fred Rogers, host of the long-running PBS television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” What made Rogers special, Neville argues, was that his show was more than entertainment or even education — it was nourishment. It’s a hugely moving experience watching Rogers, a committed champion for children, come back to life on screen.
3 “Black Panther” (3.5 stars) Is it possible that superhero movies are actually becoming important? First there was “Wonder Woman,” a blow for gender equality, and now comes “Black Panther,” the first major superhero film with a black lead (Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa) and a largely black cast. Like “The Dark Knight” — but far more direct and confrontational — it’s a comic-book movie that addresses real-world problems and bigger themes.
4 “Unsane” (3.5 stars) A brittle, unpleasant woman (Claire Foy) unwittingly commits herself to a psychiatric ward in this crackling good thriller from Stephen Soderbergh. Shot entirely on iPhones, it’s jittery, nerve-wracking, occasionally hallucinatory and often quite funny — much like its heroine.
5 “First Reformed” (3.5 stars) A pastor at an upstate New York church becomes obsessed with man’s destruction of the environment and begins planning a deadly, destructive act. This is Paul Schrader’s update of “Taxi Driver,” driven by the same themes of obsession, desperation and self-aggrandizement. Ethan Hawke, an unlikely choice as the pastor, delivers an impassioned performance that could resurface this Oscar season.
6 “Tully” (3.5 stars) An exhausted mother (Charlize Theron) turns for help to a night nanny (Mackenzie Davis) and finds her life almost magically transformed. This isn’t fully a thriller, a comedy or a drama, yet it works brilliantly, pulling us into a nighttime world populated by just two women whose relationship becomes worryingly intense.
7 “Avengers: Infinity War” (3.5 stars) We’ve grown accustomed to Marvel villains thundering on about destroying humanity and installing a new world order, but Thanos is different. Played by a computer-generated Josh Brolin with impressive gravitas, he’s the center of this shockingly impactful and unsettling comic-book movie. The doleful ending is, in its Hollywood blockbuster way, quite moving.
8 “Disobedience” (3.5 stars). Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz play Orthodox Jewish Londoners — one devout, one lapsed — who have an affair. It’s a richly drawn drama (based on Naomi Alderman’s novel) that tackles a wide range of issues, from religion to family to mortality. It’s also a tour de force from McAdams, a romcom veteran who delivers an unexpectedly sensitive and multilayered performance.
9 “Annihilation” (3 stars) Natalie Portman plays a biologist (and former soldier) who ventures into a mysterious zone nicknamed The Shimmer. It’s the latest sci-fi mood piece from Alex Garland, who is consistently proving that modest budgets and big visions aren’t mutually exclusive. The excellent all-female cast (not counting Oscar Isaac) includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson.
10 “Ready Player One” (3 stars) Steven Spielberg gets hip to virtual reality and also returns to his old self in this lively sci-fi adventure about an online world that contains the key to hidden riches. It all takes place in a post-collapse society that’s obsessed with the 1980s — for some of us, a utopia — and half the fun is watching Spielberg name-drop himself and his entire generation of filmmakers.
11 “Tomb Raider” (3 stars) Alicia Vikander takes over for Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft (aka the female Indiana Jones) and unexpectedly knocks it out of the park. The key is that Croft isn’t an unstoppable martial-arts expert with pistols on her thighs but a vulnerable young woman trying to survive on her wits and sheer determination. That makes this the rare summer blockbuster that also works on a human level. Why aren’t all reboots this good?
12 “The Seagull” (3 stars) Don’t let the musty-looking trailers fool you — this Chekhov adaptation actually has a lot to say about our current moment, especially our relationship with money, our craving for fame and our inability to find contentment in the civilized world. The cast is topnotch and eclectic, led by Annette Bening and Saoirse Ronan.
13 “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (3 stars) Listen, all they have to do is keep the quality fairly high, and we’ll keep coming to these movies forever. New director J.A. Bayona joins the enduring “Jurassic” franchise and turns his installment into something chillier and darker, even while feeding us moviegoers the red meat we demand. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard still charm as reluctant lovers, and the dinos look as impressive as ever.
14 “Upgrade” (3 stars) From the guy who brought us “Saw” comes a very different kind of movie: A sci-fi noir in which a paralyzed man (Logan Marshall-Green) receives a chip implant that allows him to walk again — and helps him hunt down the men who killed his wife. It’s a little bit “Robo-Cop,” a little bit David Cronenberg, and a whole lot of fun.
15 “Hearts Beat Loud” (3 stars) Nick Offerman is the grumpy heart and rumpled soul of this winning comedy-drama about a Brooklyn dad who forms a band with his teenage daughter (Kiersey Clemons) and starts to take the whole project a little too seriously. It’s an intimate, handmade film — shot on location with a slim budget — that pulls you into its little world and makes you care about its endearing characters.
16 “Isle of Dogs” (3 stars) In a fanciful version of Japan, a young boy ventures into Trash City, a forbidden territory populated entirely by dogs, to find his own lost canine. Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion production isn’t quite as enchanting as his “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but it’s jam-packed with his trademark quirkiness and kookiness. The voice cast includes Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum and Bob Balaban.
17 “Foxtrot” (3 stars) This Israeli film played its Oscar-qualifying run in 2017 and didn’t make the cut, but upon its U.S. release earlier this year “Foxtrot” became a critical smash. The story of a father (the great Lior Ashkenazi) whose son, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier, is reportedly killed in action — and then reportedly not — “Foxtrot” unfolds like an infinite hall of mirrors in which it’s hard to tell the tragedy from the comedy.
18 “Hotel Artemis” (3 stars) In a dystopian Los Angeles, an aging nurse (Jodie Foster) runs a hospital for criminals. Sounds a lot like “John Wick,” right? But writer-director Drew Pearce makes this movie his own with a noirish vibe, terrific production (the hotel, modeled on L.A.’s semilegendary Alexandria, looks amazing) and a well-chosen cast that includes Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella and Charlie Day as scheming patients.
19 “Lean on Pete” (3 stars) What “Winter’s Bone” was to Jennifer Lawrence, “Lean on Pete” may be to Charlie Plummer — a rugged rural drama that introduces America to a new star. Plummer plays Charley, an impoverished teenager who steals a doomed racehorse. It’s a road trip movie with little dialogue, but Plummer is riveting — and heartbreaking — as a skinny, homeless kid on the brink of desperation.
20 “Borg vs. McEnroe” (3 stars) This drama about Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and John McEnroe (a very good Shia LaBeouf) sputtered at the box-office, which is too bad — it’s a compelling, richly detailed biopic of two enigmatic athletes. The payoff comes at the end, a crackling re-creation of their historic 1980 face-off at Wimbledon.