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The obvious first comparison people have to this film is it's 2018 companion, Boy Erased. While I don't always like comparing movies, because it's not typically fair to do so, there's a clear choice for better film among these two. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a well made film about a teenage girl being put into conversation therapy after getting caught making out with one of her schoolmates. As I said while reviewing Boy Erased, it's incredibly off-putting that such 'therapy' centers still exist, and both films give off an "icky" feeling the whole treatment aspect. However, as a film, I would have liked Cameron Post to go through a bigger arc. I always enjoyed watching Cameron and her therapy mates bond over the ridiculousness, but it does feel a little "too clean" at times.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Lack of Connection
As with Barry Jenkins' previous film, Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk has a personal feeling direction that adds an extra layer of realism and connection between art and artist. Perhaps it's his intense and slowly filmed close ups without dialogue or his incredible sense for telling a story through the colors he uses in cinematography, his films feel weighted with emotion, in a good way. Disappointingly though, I never felt personally connected to these characters nor the intensity of the situations they found themselves in. I won't say there's anything overtly wrong with the movie or a glaring weakness, but I wasn't as emotionally invested as I thought I would be. In a way, it's a larger comment on how 2018 went as a whole. Aside from Roma or A Star is Born, there was a serious lack of quality to the typical "Oscar bait" films. No matter, I look forward to Barry Jenkins next outing behind the camera, as there are few directors with his type of talent out there.
Time is Not On My Side
Look, here's the thing, I know I may have overreacted to that Thawne reveal a few episodes ago. But forgive me, because this show has been desperately needing a kick in the butt to spark something exciting. Well, probably predictably so, The Flash & the Furious went back to the old ways of repeating the same old formula for a 42 minute CW show. First of all, why on earth is this episode titled after the Fast & Furious franchise? It literally had nothing to do with the series, at all. At least Legends of Tomorrow consistently makes an effort to poke fun at their titles that make an homage to a movie or television show. A few things to note: I would love to get extended scenes with Thawne, not just an opener or an end credits teaser. I have no interest in a "cure" storyline, we've seen how that's worked out in the past with other franchises. And lastly, I'd rather not spend an entire episode with Barry stuck in a cell without abilities while Nora does everything for him. But maybe that's just me.
Had to Put Up a Fight
This is a film I wish I would have watched before I made my favorite films of 2018 list, because there's no doubt it would have flirted with my top 10 for sure. Viscerable, gorgeous, colorful, sexy, thrilling, and most of all - rightfully unsettling - Revenge earns what the title presents itself as, a balls to the wall bonkers thrill ride for a full 110 minutes. This is the feature length debut of director Coralie Fargaet and boy oh boy does she have a career ahead of her. Her direction, perhaps above anything else, is the biggest takeaway from Revenge. Ranging from cringy gore during the main characters fall in the first act, to a brutally intense chase through the desert, Fargeat establishes a unique tone and feel to Revenge, and it's extremely impressive considering the layered subject matter. And THAT long take/oner towards the end, WOW. This is a true accomplishment from Fargeat.
The Seagull (2018)
Some Settle, Some Go For It
Of the 3 Saoirse Ronan movies released this year, this was the one I was most intrigued by. Not necessarily by the story, that would probably be Mary Queen of Scots. But I was fascinated as to why this film sat on the shelf for nearly 3 years as Ronan received Oscar nominations for both Brooklyn and Lady Bird in the meantime. For whatever reason and through various production delays, it took years to bring the English speaking adaptation of the Anton Chekhov play to the big screen. I'm not typically a fan of these types of films, ones that prioritize proper dialogue and melodramatic scenes to chew up the screen time. However, I do appreciate when a modernization is attempted to bring more eyes to famous source material in a universal way. Ronan and fellow 'On Chesil Beach' screenmate, Billy Howle, play very well off each other. And much like that film, there's a certain heft to their relationship, as well as the other various people involved in love triangles. Does the film come together as much as the individual performances do? Not particularly. It's a serviceable adaptation that will unfortunately be soon forgotten, much like the other 2 Ronan 2018 films.
American Animals (2018)
Now here is one of the most unique films of 2018, both in the story itself and the way Bart Layton tells said story. The fact that they used the real life people for each of the four main characters to help propel the story forward in a documentary-style fashion is absolutely brilliant, and even hilarious at times. Unlike their real-life counterparts, these four actors seem to have a really great future, each having their own share of scenes to steal. Unsurprisingly, Barry Keoghan was the clear standpoint, constantly bordering the line of unsettlingly charismatic and offputting. Which, for a movie like this, is basically perfect. A certain part of me watching this kept going, are these kids complete idiots? Some of the things they decide to do and how they go about doing them are just mind-bendingly stupid, but the way these characters act create a definite believability in some regard. But undoubtedly, American Animals is one of the strangest and most interesting films of 2018.
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
The Year of RBG
It really has been the year of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After a widely acclaimed documentary titled RBG came out over the summer, a narrative feature, focusing on her first and perhaps most vital of cases, proving Charles Moritz deserved a tax deduction for assisting with his aging mother hit the theaters. For the most part, On the Basis of Sex received luke warm to mostly positive reviews. I found the film to be incredibly moving and inspirational, especially in today's highly divisive world. Felicity Jones, who is always good, did a wonderful job bringing the larger than life RBG to the big screen. Heck, I teared up when at one point there is a transition shot from her to the real RBG, walking up the steps of the Supreme Court Building. Sure, perhaps Mimi Leder took a mostly glossy approach to the biopic, but an extremely effective one at that.
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)
The Beginning of Something Refreshing
The most fascinating and perhaps most important thing about Bandersnatch is that it completely opens the door for future films and TV shows to take the route of choosing your own story, especially on Netflix. It may certainly get to the point of being a gimmick that gets out of hand, but at this time? I'm entirely invested in this sub-genre. Also being an extension of the Black Mirror show makes it a perfect fit, considering the very fact that you're choosing certain decisions for the characters has a direct correlation to how the characters act, essentially breaking the 4th wall. Equally enthralling as it is unsettling, Bandersnatch unravels with each stunning moment and revelation. Count me in on this particular gimmick.
Escape Room (2019)
Clumsy & Fun
It's the first officially released film of the year, so my expectations are about as low as they could possibly be. January has and probably always will be the dumping ground for movie releases (although September has tried to take those reigns in recent years), but Escape Room manages to be a semi-entertaining if not overtly silly mystery thriller. In many ways, the film is almost too clever for its own good. Constantly proposing new and fascinating ideas amidst a cool action scene, only to be outdone by clumsy dialogue and below average acting. But make no mistake, for an early January release, this was a solid amount of fun.
Bird Box (2018)
I'm only comparing it because just about everyone online is doing the same, but remember when A Quiet Place displayed relentless tension with a PG-13 rating and made great use of its cast in a contained setting? Well Bird Box has big great ideas with an even better cast, but chooses to rarely explore those ideas and talents to its full potential. A post-apocalyptic film based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, focuses on a mother and her two children who navigate the terrifying landscapes of a world where a certain 'presence' is able to manipulate your brain into killing yourself if you look in its direction outdoors. Just reading what I just typed out could either make the film sound incredibly stupid or incredibly scary. It's neither. Director Susanne Bier establishes a creepy mood and tone throughout, but never follows through with any true horror or scares. The best way I can describe it as a sporting event that has all the hype and potential but due to several different circumstances is a slightly boring and extremely underwhelming piece of entertainment.
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
A Beauty to Watch, Sometimes Tough to Get Through
Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie are two of my favorite actresses working today and I will see just about anything either of them put out, no matter the subject matter. The relationship (and sometimes lack thereof) between Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots is fascinating, and a story meant to be seen theatrically or through a mini-series with a bigger budget. This iteration of their story, mostly told through the lens of Mary, is a gorgeous period piece with fantastic performances from its leads. It takes about 35-40 minutes to really get interesting, but when it gets going, it's a beauty to watch. Of course, being that these stories deal with double crosses, many noble names to keep track of, time jumps, and locations sometimes not fully explained, the film doesn't always feel as smooth as it would like us to believe. For the most part though, I quite enjoyed watching this classic story play out.
Witty but Messy
It's still fascinating to me that the guy who did Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys, is making serious politically charged films now. After The Big Short was released a few years ago, it seemed as though Adam McKay's career could go in any which direction. He clearly had a talent for making legitimately funny films, whilst showing perhaps his true fashion with The Big Short and his new film, Vice. Focusing on 50 years of former Vice President Dick Cheney's life, Vice is a borderline 'mess of a film'. Constantly jumping around from different eras and never truly giving enough time in any one place for us to catch our breath, but I also think this was McKay's intentions. He's admittedly coming at it from a liberal point of view and never misses his chance to throw shade at some of the vile things Cheney was allegedly or confirmed to be involved with. Christian Bale's portrayal of the ruthless leader was unsettling and something only few actors can capture with such charisma. And that's where the film succeeds the most, with its incredibly witty humor and performances. McKay's direction is a little bit too messy and 'clever' for my liking. Even so, Vice is worth checking out.
Diverts as Many Cliches as Possible
Let me start out by saying this film is definitely not my typical area of interest. A movie about someone trying to upend the routine of a yearly beauty pageant in order to prove a point to her judging mother, is not something I would usually check out. However, with Jennifer Aniston involvement as the aforementioned Mother, I felt it might be worth giving a shot. Luckily, the film makes every attempt to divert expectations and avoid cliches, but it forgets how to right a lead character that can be someone you care about. She's every bit as judging and critical as her mom is but to other people. Of course, that's the arc 'Dumplin' goes through as she navigates her own sort of coming of age story. It has sweet intentions, is executed well enough to be watched but perhaps not well enough to be acclaimed.
The Heart This Series Has Been Missing
I'm one of those guys who actually likes the first and third Transformers films, but the other 3 are some of the worst films ever made. However, after what the last two have brought, I was admittedly done with anything related to Autobots and Decepticons. Then, the first trailer for Bumblebee comes out and I was surprisingly intrigued. Maybe that was the lack of Michael Bay's presence felt or that Travis Knight brilliantly directed Kubo a few years ago. Either way, it felt like it's own thing, and the film lived up to those hopes. It's pretty close to a replica of The Iron Giant in many ways, but its heart and charm are something that Transformers films have been missing for a long time. I'm not going to care about the big robot action if I don't first care about all the characters, and Bumblebee hits on all those accounts. Hailee Steinfeld is the best lead the series has ever had, and even John Cena had some solid moments in the midst of a well-structured action film as well. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Bumblebee is one of the best films of the year.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Mary Poppins Returns could arguably fall into the category of films made strictly based on nostalgia and without much originality. That is, before you see it perhaps you can make that argument. But upon review, it's full of imagination and awe as Emily Blunt steps into the role that Julie Andrews made iconic back in 1964, as Blunt caps off her already fantastic year in an awards caliber performances for the ages. There may not (yet) be a 'Spoonful of Sugar', 'Let's Go Fly a Kite', or 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' in the soundtrack but just about all of the songs are catchy and re-playable. Complementing the music are the visceral visuals with breathtaking cinematography from Dion Beebe. You're instantly transported to a magical world with every song, and of course the blend of animation and live action is well-integrated. The only part I could have done without was the jarring and unnecessary scene with Meryl Streep. You can take her out of the film and it wouldn't change at all. Alas, Mary Poppins Returns is nothing short of a magical entry into the now yearly 'musical-at-the-end-of-the-year-series'. Dare I say I would like to see Blunt continue in this role in some capacity.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Kurt Was Born to Play Santa
I can't see myself ever sitting down to watch this again, however, I do get a certain joy out of watching well-respected actors having fun in roles that are incredibly goofy and tonally different from their previous work. Just look at all the actors in the Mamma Mia movies, did you ever think you would see guys like Colin Firth do some of those moves like he does during 'Dancing Queen'? Sometimes actors are just meant for certain roles, and I feel like Kurt Russell was born to play Santa Claus. The charm and charisma he brings, for the most part, overpowers the brutally cheesy and awful dialogue. If Netflix didn't already have a track record of producing these types of films, I would have thought this was a Disney Channel original film.
Ben Is Back (2018)
A Tale of Two Halves
In the year of Boy Erased, Beautiful Boy, and Ben is Back, there was no shortage of young adult males going through a serious emotional, physical, or mental crisis. All good films in their own right, and I think Ben is Back is more of a great representation of acting talent than it is a great film. Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges play great off each other and in a less-packed year, perhaps they could be nominated for an Academy Award. The film does unfortunately feel like a tale of two halves as the last hour turns into a crime drama while the first half is a pure emotional drama, with the latter clearly being superior. For as invested as you become into their relationship as a mother/son, I was hoping for a little bit more closure than what we received. The film just kind of ends without much resolution and it just felt strange. Alas, it's a tour de force for both of these actors, even if the end product is far less than its parts.
Flawed but Undeniably Fun
Is Aquaman the savior for the DCEU like people want it to be? Well, I would lean towards saying no, but it's far from the disaster some may have expected. James Wan not only brings a new flavor to the universe, but makes a separate entry into a series that desperately needed it.
There are two mindsets at play here, one being that Wan "clearly" meant to make a overly dramatic and bombastic adventure with cheesy dialogue, the other that the film is a tonal mess that at times takes itself far too serious, and at other times, almost having too much fun. I fall somewhere in the middle. I can acknowledge that a film that has a massive octopus playing the drums under water has a certain sense of self awareness, but there's no doubt in my mind that the mixture of tones just doesn't work in some moments.
Jason Momoa is the perfect Aquaman/Arthur Curry and I'm mad that I had any doubt over his casting all those years ago. Despite not having the best chemistry romantically, his love interest Mera (Amber Heard) plays well off of him. When they aren't making out in the midst of an all out under water war, they share some of the best action scenes of the film, including a rooftop chase that displays the true genius behind Wan's framing/camera work.
I could have completely done without Black Manta as it felt very much like the unnecessary presence of Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange. Also, his costume is absolutely absurd, and I don't care how close it is to the comic book iteration of Manta. The other villain, Patrick Wilson's 'Oceanmaster', is an overcooked & cliched power hungry super villain that did next to nothing for me. There's a good antagonist in there somewhere for Aquaman, but it sure wasn't in this origin story.
I'd be remiss not to mention Nicole Kidman, considering how great of a year she is having, and her turn as Atlanna is no different. Owning her action sequences and elevating all of her dialogue, Kidman is likely the most memorable thing from the film, and I hope to see more of her character at some point or another.
Extravagant, colorful, bombastic, a tonal mess, and cheesy, Aquaman is right around where I expected it would be. And hopefully the beginning of a new era of DC movies. Here's hoping.
The Mule (2018)
A marketing campaign coming in at the 12th hour and a film that's still been surprisingly hidden by Warner Bros, The Mule could be a fitting end to a storied Hollywood career from Clint Eastwood. In many ways mirroring his life, The Mule gives insight into Eastwood's inner psyche, as he has navigated being an in demand actor for over 60 years whilst having a large family to look after as well. So if you're looking at the film in that way, it's a sharp and poignant apology Eastwood is sending to his family after all these years. It's not a perfect film, but it's tightly directed, at times brilliantly intense, and even emotionally moving. Even if it is a ultimately predictable and unsurprising drama. If it is Eastwood's last hoorah, it's been one hell of a run.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
No Such Thing as a Hollywood Ending
I love when movies combine genres and ideas that perhaps no one thought were previously possible. Anna and the Apocalypse is one of the most unique films I have ever seen, and one of the most entertaining 90 minutes of all 2018. It's not for everyone, in fact, the Disney Channel esque musical numbers meeting the incredibly violent and gory zombie action will turn off many. But I found it to be an impeccably coherent flick, and one that's perfect for the holiday season. Not all the emotional ploys work and there are even some moments that I wish were re-arranged with different characters, but you have to applaud the boldness to this film. And hey, as the film tells us, there's no such thing as a Hollywood ending.
I'm often weary of films with tremendous amounts of praise or build up before I get a chance to go see it. Unfortunately, Roma never managed to get to a theater within 50 miles of me, I finally gave it a shot via Netflix. It's still a movie I would have rather seen in a theater setting, but the intimacy of this story certainly works on a small screen as well. Alfonso Cuaron's follow up to his Oscar winning (and one of my favorite films of all time) Gravity, is an emotional rollercoaster and displays a master at work in cinematography and framing. But more importantly, it takes us through a year-long journey in the life of a maid for a family in Mexico City during the 1970's. Cleo, played by non-actress Yalitza Aparicio, is the aforementioned maid and essentially the second parent figure for the middle class family, which goes a good chunk of the film without a father. The only criticism I have for the film is that there isn't a defined arc that Cleo goes on, or at least not the traditional one, so upon first viewing it takes a while to latch on to her character, but it really is a beautiful representation of a slice of life type of story. It doesn't feel like a movie, rather, we are just a fly on the wall for a year of Cleo's life. Whether it be something joyful or tragic, we're there for the ride. What Cuaron managed to give us a mixture of both in the most beautiful way possible.
Vox Lux (2018)
A Haunting Version of A Star is Born
I waited nearly 4 days to write this review/reaction because I genuinely wasn't sure how I felt after seeing Vox Lux. I'm not the first one to say this but it's quite the pairing with A Star is Born for what could be the best double feature of 2018, with both portraying such a vastly different take on rise to stardom. Much like other 2018 films Hereditary and 22 July, there are a few scenes in Vox Lux that I will never forget in that they are some of the most haunting and terrifying sequences I have ever seen on film. However, a film like 22 July had an easier plot to follow and a much more direct narrative, whereas Vox Lux is a dark interpretation of fame, and an interpretation that doesn't give the clearest clues as to how your supposed to feel after viewing. The performances are extraordinary, including yet another star-making turn from Raffey Cassidy and expectedly great turns from Jude Law and of course, Natalie Portman. Even if I'm not totally sure on how I feel about this film, I know that I want more films to be this bold and daring.
Animated Film of the Year
We've gotten to the point in this golden-age of comic book movies where studios are starting to feel more comfortable taking storytelling risks. With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Sony not only took a huge risk with the animation style, it's lead character, and bold story choices, but it's actually a very good film in its own right. Blending a heartfelt story, well-timed humor, and a bold animation style, Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man film to date, and one that should garner all sorts of accolades. If it wasn't for an ending that gets bloated with hectic animation, it could flirt with some of my favorite animated movies of all time list. Either way, it's fun, infectious, and shows that the superhero genre has a long way to go before it runs out of unique ideas.
The Princess Bride (1987)
A Timeless Adventure
So, I really only watched this movie when I did to prepare for Once Upon a Deadpool, but I'm glad I finally came around to watching one of the classic fantasy-adventure films of the last century. Earnest and honestly funny, The Princess Bride captured my imagination (even at 24) for an hour and a half of pure joy and spectacle, even if the film is pretty dated by most 1987 standards. I don't think anyone can say the film isn't completely cheeseball at times with some of the dialogue and performances, but I'll take that sword fight between Westley and Inigo any day of the week. That, the timeless performances from Andre the Giant, a classic romance, and one hell of a revenge story with Inigo, and you have the adventure that is, The Princess Bride.
The Wife (2017)
Out From the Shadow
The Wife is that type of dialogue driven drama that you would think only Aaron Sorkin could write so impressively but Jane Anderson and Meg Wolitzer (who wrote the book) wrote a fantastic screenplay that gives both Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce plenty of build career making performances around. Okay, maybe I shouldn't say career making performances because both of them have been well established for decades, but The Wife is certainly some of their best work. Never boring or dull and always equipped with a witty scene right around the corner, The Wife is a intricate drama about a woman who has been kept under her husband's fingernails (following in the footsteps of other 2018 films like 'Puzzle', 'Colette', 'Juliet, Naked' and even Widows) for far too in writing his novels for him, and you guessed it, brings the film to a revealing climax. Unfortunately, the way the film ends was nowhere near satisfying enough for the great drama that came before. But a disappointing end doesn't take away from the great turns of both Close and Pryce in what is well worth your time at the theater.