I spent a lot of time in movie theaters in 2018. Whether it was Ocean’s 8 or A Star Is Born, there were a lot of movies that tried to tell memorable stories. Not every film succeeded. Many stood as platforms for terrific acting performances, but came up short as art and entertainment. All made for a rewarding collective experience as a moviegoer.
Weighing the efforts of different genres of movies is a conundrum. Comparing Black Panther with Crazy Rich Asians is not apples and oranges. When ranking every new movie that I saw in 2018, I considered the overall goal of what the film was trying to accomplish and how they succeeded in telling each story.
The Outlaw King – This movie had first-glance potential to be a thrilling action movie. Instead, the Netflix movie starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce did not deliver a single moment that justified a $120 million budget or investing two hours as a viewer.
Ocean’s 8 – The all-female spin-off had so much potential. The incredible cast and glitzy backdrop of the Met gala could not save a movie that fell short of its three predecessors. A poorly-constructed story and a questionably lengthy cameo by James Corden failed to deliver a cool new addition to the Ocean’s franchise. There is enough potential to make another run with the same cast, although different storytelling would be a major plus.
Crazy Rich Asians – The first major film with a predominant Asian cast since 1993 combined a solid story with an outrageous splash of wealth and extravagance. Despite being a box office success, the summer rom-com came up small on the comedy, making the film a disappointment.
First Man – When the camera was not shaky, First Man was surprisingly boring. Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling’s Oscar hopeful crashed with few redeemable moments. The moon landing scene is worth a watch (even if the other two hours are not).
The Spy Who Dumped Me – Raunchy, audacious, funny. Not the best film to hit theaters in 2018, but the R-Rated espionage comedy with Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis was certainly worth its time.
Bad Times At The El Royale – The film featured a great cast and an interesting premise: strangers meet in a luxurious hotel loaded with mystery. Two-thirds of the movie was enjoyable, but ultimately the flick fell short on any noteworthy twist or ending that make noire films satisfactory.
Halloween – The “first direct sequel” to the 1978 slasher classic had everything: Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, and a whole lot of violence. The film was successful because the action moved at a crisp pace and left enough on the table for (at least) one more flick.
The Mule – This was not a great movie. It was the vehicle for an amazing performance that may allow Clint Eastwood to become the oldest person to win an Oscar. Eastwood plays a deceptive, morally bankrupt, charming, and self-absorbed man. His character attempts to find some late life redemption while acting as a 90-year-old drug mule for a Mexican cartel.
Green Book – The Viggo Mortenson-Mahershala Ali period piece was a well-rounded movie that serves as tempting Oscar bait. The film came up short because of a lack of a challenging story that pushes films about social issues to the next level.
BlacKkKlansman – Speaking of the next level, Spike Lee attempted one of the most interesting film concepts of 2018. The filmmaker’s commingling of racism in the Seventies with modern events produced uneven results, but it was the provocative concept that Green Book was not.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout – As I mentioned in my review, I have never been the biggest Mission Impossible fan. The franchise is missing a compelling central character, but plot is not important here. The latest Mission Impossible movie was an incredible action film. Tom Cruise’s stunts were a string of jaw-dropping pieces that turned Fallout into the highest-grossing movie in the franchise.
They Shall Not Grow Old – World War I has been neglected as a subject by the movie industry, but this Peter Jackson documentary was stunning. The Lord of the Rings director colorized and enhanced period footage to provide a captivating depiction of the 20th Century conflict. The new look on an old film was masterfully created, often providing a stomach-turning glimpse of the horrors of the war in a way that has never been brought to the big screen before.
Vice – In 2017 Gary Oldman powered The Darkest Hour to a Best Picture nomination. Christian Bale’s turn as Dick Cheney should produce the same result for Vice. Adam McKay’s Big Short-style depiction of the former VP was not quite as good as his movie about the financial collapse, but is still worth seeing just to witness Bale and Amy Adams turn in dominant performances.
Incredibles 2 – Despite a 14-year gap between films, Pixar’s follow-up to the 2004 superhero film was compelling, funny, and visually stunning. The only thing missing was more of John Ratzenberger’s hilarious Underminer, who is entertaining enough to receive its own film.
Creed 2 – The eighth (and possibly final) edition to the Rocky franchise continued the better-than-expected run of Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed. The evolution of Creed and the Drago family are a testament to Sylvester Stallone’s growth as the creator of a franchise that should have died with Rocky V in 1990.
The Death Of Stalin – Armando Iannucci’s latest lambaste of bureaucracy and power tackled his coldest subject yet. The film followed the Soviet Central Committee’s scramble to fill the void created by the sudden death of Joseph Stalin. An amazing ensemble headlined by Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin turned these powerful figures into pathetic men through brilliant gallows humor.
Black Panther – The Marvel film was a tremendous accomplishment by Ryan Coogler. The director explored the Wakanda universe with economical and satisfying storytelling. The highest-grossing movie of 2018 was also elevated by performances from Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, and a well-chosen supporting cast.
The Favourite – Despite not being a straightforward comedy, the story of two women vying for the affection of Queen Anne was the funniest movie of the year. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone delivered fantastic performances that could result in Oscar nominations for all three actresses. The Favourite was a well-written film that utilized brilliant comedy to capture the high society power struggle.
A Star Is Born – The third remake of A Star Is Born may not feature the most original story, but it was the movie with the best performances of 2018. Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, and Sam Elliott turned in stunning acting. The concert scenes were breathtaking. The music was phenomenal. Do not be shocked if A Star Is Born takes home the most awards on Oscar Night this year.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – The Coen Brother’s Netflix movie successfully executed the most original film concept of 2018. The anthology film featured six different short stories of the American West.
An ensemble cast headlined by Tom Waits, James Franco, Stephen Root, Liam Neeson, and Zoe Kazan shined, but this was a movie where the story triumphs. The only common threads in the compilation were Joel and Ethan’s Cohen’s trademark dark humor and unique storytelling. Each vignette contained a provocative and/or entertaining story that induces different emotions.
Usually in film or television of this nature there is at least one story too many. A tale that does quite measure up. The Cohens produced six compelling narratives that do not overstay their welcome or take weird turns. Every single one was beautiful. Their totality adds up to the best movie I saw in 2018.