Second Union

Second Union

Second Union’s Best and Worst Films of 2018

There have been a plethora of amazing movies to hit theater screens, including small-scale indies, grandiose science-fiction marvels, racially-driven comedy-dramas, and mega-budget action powerhouses. As 2018 comes to a close, join us as we look back at the best and worst films that the year has delivered to audiences.

Before we get started, there are quite a few honorable mentions that I want to give credit to for making this an incredible year for film. This is easily one of the most culturally diverse and impeccably entertaining years for modern cinema, finally embracing the necessary variety that movies need to survive. Those honorable mentions are:

A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and fourth rendition of the titular story, following a rock star as he meets a young woman and falls in love, while struggling with internal demons as her career skyrockets.

Avengers: Infinity War, the 19th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing together every hero from previous outings for a showdown against the franchise’s biggest baddie yet, Thanos.

Crazy Rich Asians, the rom-com about an Asian-American woman who travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family, only to find that they are much wealthier than she expected.

First Reformed, Paul Schrader’s delve into the psyche of a New York pastor whose emotional complex begins to unravel after an encounter with a radical environmentalist.

Green Book, Peter Farrelly’s drama about the real-life friendship that blossomed between jazz pianist Donald Shirley and his driver Tony Lip during the 1960s.

Incredibles 2, Brad Bird and Pixar’s follow-up to the iconic 2004 film that has become a staple in animation since its release.

Leave No Trace, Debra Granik’s tale of a PTSD-stricken war veteran and his teenage daughter who live in the wilderness, until a mistake tears their quiet lifestyle apart.

Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut and a heartwarming coming-of-age flick focusing on a group of skateboarders as they traverse through the ups and downs of life.

Thoroughbreds, Cory Finley’s film about two teenage girls who conspire to murder one’s stepfather, with unplanned results.

And now, onto the Top 15 films of the year.

15. Hereditary

2018 will be remembered for many things, and directorial debuts will certainly be one of those. We’ve had so many excellent first-time directors this year, from Boots Riley and Carlos López Estrada to Bo Burnham and Jonah Hill. But there was one more that made an extraordinary impact on cinema this year, and that is Ari Aster, writer, and director of the horror film Hereditary, which follows a family who comes to terms with their ancestry after the matriarch has died.

From a personal standpoint, I didn’t find this film incredibly scary, but that’s just me. However, when looked at from a deeper, story-driven perspective, this is easily one of the best horror films of the year. Unsettling to the furthest degree, and utilizing its twists in creative ways, Hereditary is further propelled by its impressive performances, namely the incredible Toni Collette and the equally great Alex Wolff. There isn’t a single other horror flick that can quite beat out this one.

14. Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale is a mystery-thriller that seems home-grown from the roots of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Taking place in a motel built on the border between California and Nevada, the film unfolds over one night at the hotel, as secrets are revealed on behalf of each of the guests. With his last film, The Cabin in the Woods, director Drew Goddard tackled the tropes that seemed all too familiar but ultimately turned them against the audience, leaving us reeling with a twist no one could’ve expected. He does the same with Bad Times, taking a genre we all know and love and bringing his own interpretation to the table.

Everybody has a role to play in the events that unfold at the El Royale, and Goddard’s balance of characters and their respective stories overcomes the overstuffing of plot that seems almost all too familiar nowadays. Though maybe a bit too long for its own good, Bad Times manages to be both original and entertaining. Along with an exceptional soundtrack, outstanding performances, and some of the best cinematography of the year, Bad Times at the El Royale is one that you’ll certainly want to check out.

13. You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is a complex film. It’s a slow-burning thriller, one that wouldn’t survive one bit without Joaquin Phoenix’s grizzled and devastating performance as Joe, a Gulf War veteran with strong PTSD who now works as a hired gun. Phoenix is effortlessly charismatic here, immersing himself in the hopeless world of Joe, told vigorously through complex emotional depth and the dark, frail environments that Phoenix is able to blend into.

The first half of the film is sturdy, for sure, introducing the viewer to the desolate and cold-hearted surroundings that the movie’s story resides in and allowing them to fully take in Joe’s uncompromising methods of killing those he is hired to stop. But it’s the second half that doubles down on the character study that Ramsay earnestly portrays, especially during a particular scene taking place at a lake. A fever dream of brutality coupled with an exceptional score from Jonny Greenwood, You Were Never Really Here is one of the most beautifully bleak movies of the year.

12. Annihilation

Alex Garland’s directorial debut Ex Machina proved to be a massive critical success and even went on to win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. With this year’s Annihilation (based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer), he delivers one of the trippiest science-fiction films of all time, one you may not fully understand even months after watching it. On the surface, it’s already impressive, with outstanding visual effects and a magnificent central performance from Natalie Portman. But it’s what’s underneath that makes a difference here.

This movie can be described as a special kind of sci-fi, one that requires you to think, and in the end, not wish for a solidified, surefire conclusion. Internally thought-provoking about life, mutation and the nature of biology, Annihilation works as both a beautiful descent into a world where our world’s complex essence fully functions as it is, and that’s one that’s constantly changing. And out of that, the viewer is able to witness some of the best scenes of the year, especially a hard-as-nails ending that takes you on a trip like no other. It’s quite possibly the hardest movie of the year to fully wrap your head around, but that may be its biggest compliment.

11. Game Night

In this day and age, comedy films are more or less a means for studios to make nothing more than a profit off of dick jokes and cheap laughs. Common sense nowadays dictates that no matter how much talent you have behind a movie, you can’t save one with a lazy script. But the biggest surprise of the year turned out to be Game Night, a comedy with neither of those platitudes. There are plenty of reasons why it’s genuinely great, whether it’s the unique, intelligent story or the strong leads. But the biggest point as to why it succeeds? It’s just really, really funny.

The humor is carried on the backs of its impressive cast, who have both the necessary chemistry and the excellent comedic timing needed for a comedy flick, but the movie itself never manipulates the viewer into feeling like they should be laughing. It just simply makes them wish they could be right there with the characters, in light of all the absurdity and fun that the movie gives to the audience. For those individuals that are fed up with the mediocre level of quality that comedy films exhibit nowadays, this might be just for you.

10. Black Panther

Director Ryan Coogler’s impeccable vision of the titular Marvel superhero can feel a bit overhyped. At the end of the day, it’s still going to be a superhero movie, and in many ways, it can feel like nothing more than that. But in actuality, Black Panther is one of the best of the year, a deeply personal story that was able to connect to black citizens across the world on a level like no other. For once, the culture was inducted into the mainstream void, but it wasn’t just the inclusion of it that mattered. The fact that it was actually able to work on a deeper level is something the likes of the genre had never seen before and still continues to amaze.

Where it counts, Black Panther knows where it stands, but it also invites the world to witness the continued uprising of societal movements, accepting those into its already grounded narrative. And then there’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the movie’s incredibly tragic and phenomenally written antagonist that carries the movie on his back, a flawed individual for sure, but one with morality. The way he goes about them is wrong, but his timely motivations are unforgettable and a strong reminder of our current cultural state. And despite the film’s shortcomings (namely its lackluster special effects), it still manages to create a superhero movie that feels incredibly refreshing.

9. Eighth Grade

Comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut speaks from the heart, a trait very few are able to fully take on and shape in their own incredible way. His story of Kayla Day, a teenager days away from the end of her eighth-grade year, is about as personal as it gets, a lengthened montage of every teenager’s worst possible fears, from panic attacks to awkward social gatherings to insecurities and uncomfortable situations with older kids. Part of what makes her journey so special is because, at one point or another in our lives, we’ve all gone through what she has. And that’s what makes Kayla’s story the most relatable coming-of-age tale in years.

Burnham’s incredible point-of-view is shown through his nerve-wracking depiction of a time in our lives when nothing is certain, and everything feels as if the world has it out for you. Elsie Fisher’s incredible performance as Kayla is one of the most heartfelt and honest of the year, painting a stunning portrait of teen life. While not one that I could relate to as much as I can see others doing, it’s still an experience that everyone needs to undergo. And while it feels heavily inspired by the quintessential teen flicks that defined a generation, it never feels too reliant on them. It can carry its own weight. And for that, it deserves the highest praise.

8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the sixth stand-alone movie to tackle the titular web-slinger’s origins. However, it takes a much different approach to the material and is all the better for it. An explosive, mesmerizing sight for the eyes, Sony’s latest adaptation of the famous Marvel superhero is quite possibly the best, living up to the hype in many more ways than one. Bringing six different Spider-Verse residents to the screen with flair, this is easily the most stylistically unique movie of the year, and probably the decade.

The film’s choice to focus on Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker is one that pays off incredibly well, embracing the character’s diversity while not making it feel forced, instead coming off as a natural blend of culture and modernism. Unlike other modern animated movies, its hyper-stylized scenery and action feels new; groundbreaking, even. To put it simply, Into the Spider-Verse breaks a mold that’s been plaguing both superhero and animated movies for years, creating a new genre all on its own. It’s a fantastic adventure filled with eye-popping imagery and a heartfelt, impactful, and emotionally resonant story.

7. Blindspotting

This year has been a tremendous one for representation and culture, and Blindspotting is no slouch. Written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, the pair star as Collin and Miles, two best friends living in Oakland. After the former witnesses the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer, he begins to question his relationship with his friend, who continuously displays life-endangering behavior. Diggs and Casal prove to be one of the best onscreen pairings of the year, effortlessly blending comedy and drama.

It’s only an hour and a half, but Blindspotting seems longer than it actually is, something of a rarity in modern cinema. Providing glaring symbolism and dialogue that takes aim at multiple topics such as gentrification, racial prejudice, our legal system, and the way we perceive culture. It’s a special type of powerful, one that will make the viewer rethink certain elements of the U.S. and certainly change their thoughts on them. It’s an angry, voracious work of art that will leave you reeling, but it shouldn’t be described as bleak. It should be described as honest.

6. BlacKkKlansman

Biographical movies following the struggles of African-American life have found an incredible following in the past few decades (particularly Selma12 Years A Slave, and Malcolm X), but the latest entry in the incredible subgenre is Spike Lee’s equally incredible BlacKkKlansman. Telling the true story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Lee is no stranger to calling out important topics in his movies, but don’t be fooled by the ’70s setting: his work here is still incredibly timely.

With excellent performances across the board from John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace, Lee’s latest graces the screen with a wickedly funny but ferociously real portrayal of one of the darkest time periods in American history. Racial justice cinema has never been more prevalent, and BlacKkKlansman is here to make sure viewers know it. Comical but advantageous to those growing up in this post-modern world,

5. Sorry to Bother You

2018 was certainly a year for new and fresh filmmaking debuts, but easily one of the most memorable is Oakland rapper Boots Riley’s zany, uncompromising first feature. Taking place in an alternate present-day version of Oakland, Sorry to Bother You is a powerhouse of originality. Fueled by its underlying shaming on everything wrong with our modern-day society, the first act is a colorful reimagining of your classic rags-to-riches story, following Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a telemarketer, as he traverses the ranks at the firm he works at.

But while the movie’s first half is certainly a great one, Sorry to Bother You wouldn’t be half as memorable if it weren’t for the bonkers follow-up, a massive trip of a second act that ditches the streamlined narrative of its predecessor (but fortunately not losing its pace). By the time the movie has ended, you’ll be left questioning what you just saw for days on end. And even with all of the trippy, strange moments littered throughout, there’s no doubt that Riley has crafted one of the most solidly effective and surreal endeavors of the year.

4. Isle of Dogs

Another home run from director Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs takes place in Japan and follows a group of dogs who embark on a help a young boy find and rescue his own dog. Anderson once again shows that he cannot be beaten, delivering an impressive follow-up to his last stop-motion effort, 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, and with Isle of Dogs, embarks on a heartfelt and quirky journey, held up by the strength, charisma, and irresistible charm of its lead characters.

Packed with gorgeous cinematography, a wholly engaging narrative, and one of the best scores you’ll hear all year, this poignant animated adventure is chock-full of the imagination and wonder viewers have come to expect from Anderson, only this time with top-notch animation to go along with it. Coupled with excellent voice acting, the compassionate story is both unique and exceptionally written, adding another layer to the already beautiful palette. Isle of Dogs is one you definitely shouldn’t miss.

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

It’s been over two decades since the first Mission: Impossible installment made its debut, but the series (and star Tom Cruise) are still continuing to push the boundaries that action movies are set by. Not since last year has there been such a high-octane thrill ride like Fallout, and returning director Christopher McQuarrie makes sure that the viewer feels every ounce of what happens on screen. Twenty-five minutes in and Cruise is HALO-jumping out of a plane 25,000 feet in the air, but that’s far from the most insane shit that goes down.

But behind all of the incredible practical stuntwork, there still lies a highly compelling film that shouldn’t be judged based simply on its energetic prowess. Visually, it’s very inventive and the cinematography that accompanies the action sequences is stunning. Lorne Balfe’s score packs a mesmerizing punch when it comes into play. The narrative is simple but marvelously effective. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is more than the year’s best action movie. It’s a spectacle of infinite proportions, outperforming each and every one of its competitors with ease.

2. Roma

Director Alfonso Cuarón has built himself one of the biggest followings of the 21st century, helming films such as Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity (which earned him an Academy Award for Best Director). He returned this year with Roma, a semi-autobiographical tribute to the woman who helped raise him, portrayed by Yalitza Aparicio in her first acting role. Aparicio is absolutely stunning and is able to convey a stellar amount of emotional depth and resonance with her performance.

In addition to directing the film, Cuarón also wrote the script, and his alluring panache for storytelling is shown in full here. By expressing timely themes and portraying a tense, riot-driven setting, he delivers another richly layered addition to his already outstanding resumé. The striking monochromatic cinematography is one of the most beautiful sights of the year, and the movie itself is a remarkable journey of sentiment that you’ll never forget. Extraordinarily personal and deeply moving, Roma is nothing short of a masterpiece.

1. First Man

Going into Damien Chazelle’s First Man, you’ll most likely already be familiar with the story it tells, a problem many biopics tend to face when being transferred from life to screen. It’s a simple fact: the reality of a historical moment is hard to capture in another medium. Chazelle has already proven himself to be one of the freshest new directors of the decade (earning Academy Award nominations for both Whiplash and La La Land), but he still has room up his sleeve for more tricks to pull on the audience, one of those being his exceptionally grounded approach to the story of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11.

Everything Chazelle does works. There’s not a single frame in this movie where something feels off. Whether it be the increasingly investing story, the knockout acting from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, the beautifully constructed musical accompaniments, or the perfectly-framed cinematography, First Man knows at least one thing for sure: it wants to take you to the moon and knows exactly how to do it. Sci-fi films may dominate the space drama subgenre, but Chazelle’s masterpiece proves that there’s still room for truth.

THE WORST

Despite this year’s increasingly evident delivery of incredibly masterful cinematic journeys, there were some that didn’t quite work. Here are the 5 worst movies of 2018.

5. Breaking In

Breaking In isn’t insanely horrible in every respect. It’s just an unfortunate combination of mediocre elements, adding up to create a movie that’s just as unoriginal as you’d expect. Gabrielle Union delivers a competent and admittedly enjoyable performance as a mother whose family falls victim to a home invasion, doing the best that she can in a role that isn’t entirely demanding.

Union can’t save the movie from an insufferably bland script, disposable villains with no development whatsoever, and pacing that doesn’t do any favors. The set-pieces have no variety and the story is so uninspired and predictable that you’ll have known what the ending was probably before to movie even begins. Skip it.

4. Mile 22

There’s really nothing more embarrassing for a movie than when it can’t even live up to its standards. And so we have Mile 22, a movie scrapped together so haphazardly that I still wouldn’t be able to tell you what exactly happened during it. The biggest detractor from this movie is easily the editing, which is so messy that the viewer isn’t even able to process what’s going on.

This is a movie that has a lot going for it, namely the talent behind it. Peter Berg’s last couple of films (Patriots Day and Deepwater Horizon) were two of the best that 2016 had given. Unfortunately, Mile 22 isn’t going to do his resumé any favors, packed to the brim with wooden performances, dull direction, and overly convoluted script. Next!

3. Slice

A24 is quite possibly one of the best things to happen to film this decade, bringing moviegoers new and award-winning independent films such as Eighth GradeLady BirdHereditary, Ex Machina, and the Best Picture-winning Moonlight (to name a few). But this year, the company stumbled with Slice, a mess of a movie that feels like it was made for the Disney Channel.

Austin Vesely’s script is one of the worst of the year, never once feeling grounded and instead like something an eighth grader wrote up during his lunch period. Featuring atrocious special effects, weak characters, and horrible performances (on the part of normally great actors like Zazie Beetz), this is certainly one undeserving of your time.

2. Death Wish

Bruce Willis is a good actor, and examples of this can be seen in classics like Pulp Fiction and Die Hard. Nowadays, however, his talent is squandered, and that couldn’t be any more evident than it is with Eli Roth’s Death Wish, a remake of the 1974 film of the same name. A failure on every level, Eli Roth’s remake simply feels like a movie that nu metal fans would see on opening day.

There’s really no other way to put it. This movie is a mess. The pacing is rough, Willis’ lead character is as dry as a slice of cardboard, and the action (if you could even really call it that) is uninspired. But the real kicker? This thing doesn’t give you a single reason to watch it. There’s no focus, no clear antagonist, no satisfaction at the end. But it also comes at a horrible time in our history, one where gun violence is not uncommon, and when your movie focuses on a guy who kills people and never gets caught? Probably best to scrap it.

1. Slender Man

Was it really going to be anything else? Plagued from the start, this movie based on a once-popular internet meme had absolutely no reason to be made. Distasteful to the real-life stabbing that occurred in 2014 as a result of the meme, and a bad film in its own right, Slender Man is truly the worst film of the year. This may have had the potential to be a remotely scary movie, but studio interference over worries of potential backlash stopped it from being the horror-ific film it was marketed as. Looking at the film’s trailer, there are tons of scenes that weren’t included in the final product.

But even without the cut footage, Slender Man is still a massive misfire in every way imaginable. There are bits that are okay (examples include brief sparks of creepy imagery), but the movie feels like it was written by either a fifth grader or a fifty-year-old. Either way, neither one knows how to write dialogue for high schoolers, as evident from lines like “Guys, the dudebros in their natural habitat”. Embarrassing.

 

What were your favorite (and least favorite) films of the year? Let us know on Twitter @WeAreSecondU.

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