There is no need to explain in detail the impact that Mr. Rogers had on most of us. We all went to this movie for comfort in a time of chaos and darkness. Mr. Rogers brought back the light and the feeling of kindness deep in our cold hearts. If you weren’t crying–no, uncontrollably sobbing—by the end, you are a monster. My favorite part of the movie wasn’t necessarily the movie itself, but walking out of the theater and witnessing multiple groups of people standing there, embracing each other. That is the kind of impact Mr. Rogers has.
2. Leave No Trace
While on the topic of kindness and compassion, in a world where we are in a constant state of self guard and distrust, came this. A veteran with mental health issues who lives in a park with his teenage daughter—by choice—in order to separate themselves from modern living and distraction run into trouble after being spotted. The struggle to assimilate back into society is surprisingly met with unending kindness. Mental health and homelessness take a very different light in this film and shows that is isn’t always what it looks like from a view of privilege and judgement, but rather what happens when we as humans act with kindness and only meet someone else’s struggles with understanding and a helping hand.
3. First Man
Confirming that getting to space is one scary motherf*cking task. A solid Justin Hurwitz soundtrack. Equally intense acting from both Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy (I’d like to see them in a staring contest). Anything that has Coach Taylor. This movie about Neil Armstrong and his race to space checks all the boxes for a compelling story that mixes the emotions of what it took both personally and professionally to reach the moon. Apart from the mild nausea I got from the shaking camera effects, everything else was solid as a rock.
I could seriously watch Tom Cruise run all day. Just put it on a loop and bring me food and water for at least 3 days because I’m not budging. As he gets more impressive in his later years, so does the stunt work. I also love Rebecca Ferguson as his sprinting/gun slinging/stunt fighting equal even more. The villain (Sean Harris) makes his return as well, who isn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy having Henry Cavill mixed in with this bunch, especially since he wanted to get in on the stunt work too. It made me respect Tom Cruise just a little more when he wouldn’t allow Cavill to skydive because it meant risking everyone’s lives if he couldn’t do it perfectly. He’s that serious about entertainment vs. risk factor.
5. A Star is Born
Lady Gaga and her talent for moving mountains with her voice deserves some recognition. There are very few singers that can bring me to tears with their performance, but she is definitely one of them. If there were any doubts about her as an entertainer, they can be put to rest after watching this. Bradley Cooper is impressive himself for learning how to sing for the role, but also the dynamic the two have together to tell this story is both endearing and heartbreaking, along with the relationships they have with their family and friends throughout the story and how they evolve both together and apart.
Hearts Beat Loud: Nick Offerman is always a pleasure to watch, pair him with a newcomer Kiersey Clemons and you get a warm and fuzzy film. Extra points for Ted Danson being what I imagine to be himself.
Dawn Wall: I didn’t know much about Tommy Caldwell before seeing this, but the storytelling was just as amazing as the climb itself.
Black Panther: The only superhero movie this year I will applaud, because it went above and beyond what needed to be on screen in this genre.
Crazy Rich Asians: A lot of people hated this movie, but back off. Read the books first then have an opinion. Also, an all-Asian cast … can we just take that as a win?
Creed 2: Michael B. Jordan flipping tires in the middle of the desert and taking a sledgehammer to the dirt. Training montage of the year. Plus, Tessa Thompson can be my hypewoman any day.
Eric Sweeney’s Top Ten: (Eric’s traveling in Asia, so his list is sans blurbs. We’ll get his expanded thoughts and an updated top ten list in January when we do our end of the year review Podcast)
1. Avengers: Infinity War
2. MI Fallout
3. Spider-Man – Into The Spiderverse
4. Game Night
5. A Quiet Place
7. Incredibles 2
10. Isle of Dogs
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Death of Stalin
This is my Best Movies of 2018 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). Please keep in mind that this list is highly subjective and may have a few dumb movies on it. Even then, there are still a handful of movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet (especially: The Rider, the Favourite, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Widows, and Burning). Also, this year’s favorite movies are in mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
Ben Foster has made a career out of great performances in movies people never see, and while this film will only further that peculiar curse, roles like this and 2016’s Hell or High Water cement his status as a Sean Penn successor of sorts. Foster’s troubled patriarch is a bit of an afterthought though as Thomasin Mckenzie’s revelatory debut as Foster’s daughter Tom is really the standout of the film, a film that is so firmly steeped in empathy and compassion. In a year when inhumane acts and bullying were championed by the powers that be, this compassion generator completely won me over. Hats off to director Debra Granik for this film, her first in eight years since she launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career with 2010’s Appalachian misery fest ‘Winter Bone‘. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.”
Best Scene: Same thing that’s wrong with you, isn’t wrong with me
Watch This If You Like: Winter’s Bone, A less whimsical version of Captain Fantastic, Living in the woods to duck creditors
The culmination of ten years of Marvel’s diligent universe building yields their best film to date, a pastel equivalent to the Dark Knight that nails enough beats to be near comic book movie perfection. I get that the emotional weight of the film wasn’t there for some that rightfully questioned the permanence of the third act (or just didn’t care about these characters in general) and I know it has swung around to being unpopular to gush about Marvel movies these days, but I genuinely enjoyed this film. I think it’s a superb, albeit overstuffed, blockbuster if such a thing exists. I mean, when was the last time (other than A Quiet Place) a film’s ending completely silenced an entire theater? (Trailer)
Synopsis: “The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.”
Relevant, vibrant, lyrical, and overflowing with confidence, this Oakland-centric buddy comedy born of Hamilton standout Daveed Diggs and real life best friend Rafael Casal‘s minds, traces the story of Collin, a recently paroled felon, and Miles, his volatile, but loyal best friend. Blindspotting is raw in a way that creates some hit or miss moments, but at its best the film is a mesmerizing study of gentrification, masculinity, racism, and personal identity. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “While on probation, a man begins to re-evaluate his relationship with his unstable best friend.”
Best Scene: No one is misreading you
Watch This if You Like: Oakland, socially conscious buddy comedies, great hip hop soundtracks
Simultaneously a technical marvel and a deeply intimate tale about a maid working in a wealthy household in Mexico City amidst the turmoil and unrest of the 1970s, director Alfonso Cuaron’s eighth film is a mini masterpiece. Easily his most personal film to date, an apparent love letter to the women who raised him, Cuaron scales back on the spectacle of prior films like ‘Gravity’ to create a saga about everyday moments. While I’m sure it’s a treat to see on the big screen, Roma is available to stream on Netflix right this second, so there’s no excuse for missing out on this special film. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.”
Best Scene: (tie) Crib shopping/Ocean commotion
Watch This if You Like: Classic films, Family hugs, Next level camerawork
Wes Anderson’s ninth film (which, when uttered aloud, loosely translates to “I Love Dogs”) is arguably the best of his late stage career (along with Grand Budapest). It stands as a fitting showcase of his scrupulous brand of whimsy and idiosyncratic wit. This film is a joy. I wanted to watch it again the moment it ended. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.”
Best Scene: Spots Reveal
Watch This If You Like: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Dogs, A + voice work
This documentary did a number on me. It was released at a moment in time when cynicism and being a cold hearted bastard seemed to be in vogue, so it was jarring to watch a film that focused on a figure of pure benevolence. Despite his reputation, I appreciate that the filmmakers still scrutinized Fred Rogers as a human being, not just as an infallible figure of nostalgic goodness. Seeing his personal struggles and growth actually made him an even more endearing figure by the end of the film. So much crying in the theater when the lights came up. Not a dry eye in the house. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers.”
My runner-up for best documentary of the year is brought to you by…Hulu? While the first fifteen minutes of Minding the Gap threaten to devolve into a cursory CKY style portrait of skate punks, it gradually morphs into a poignant examination of the cyclical nature of domestic violence, racial identity and tribe socialization. Shot in Rockford, IL by UIC grad Bing Liu, this is a must see for any Midwesterner. It’s tough to find a more impactful scene from 2018 than Bing Liu confronting his mother about past torment and abuse at the hands of his stepfather. The editing and narrative convergence in that sequence are devastating. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.”
Best Scene: Confronting the Past
Watch This if You Like: Mid90s, Hoop Dreams, Real Talk
I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of A Star is Born, so I’m going to go ahead and say this is the best version yet because that’s the sort of uniformed hyperbolic comment this review needs. Unsurprisingly, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are both on point as the film’s pair of star crossed lovers. They’ll probably have awards heaped on them come Oscar season, and it’s hard to argue they don’t deserve them. But new revelation? Sam Elliot crying is really heartbreaking. Who knew seeing the Malboro Man get choked up could be so emotional? Maybe pencil him in for Best Supporting Actor just for that one exchange? Even more heartbreaking though? That shot of Bradley Cooper’s real life dog Charlie whimpering during that spoiler redacted moment. Not cool, movie. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.”
Best Scene: All you gotta do is trust me
Watch This If You Like: Walk the Line, Duets, Faux musicals
A shocking jump in quality for the Mission Impossible franchise (improving upon the perfectly innocuous Rogue Nation) finally propels it into action masterpiece territory. This is the first time since Mad Max: Fury Road that stunt work in a film had real weight and verve to it. After Infinity War, this is easily my favorite action movie of the year. Give me whatever vitamin water Tom Cruise is chugging, because that man can still run like the wind at 56. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.”
Best Scene: The Last 30 Minutes
Watch This If You Like: Bourne Franchise, Tom Cruise running, Movies where you think Wes Bentley is going to be the bad guy but he turns out to just be some dude
Having two movies tie is definitely cheating, but the internet is a lawless place filled with memes, bacon, and entitled opinions, so there’s not much you can do about it. Regardless, Free Solo and the Dawn Wall are first-rate documentaries about rock climbers attempting to conquer supremely difficult routes on El Capitan (Yosemite’s most famous climbing wall). Free Solo focuses on the world’s best free climber, stoic superhuman Alex Honnold, as he attempts to climb El Cap without ropes. Free Solo’s counterpart, the Dawn Wall, chronicles scrappy climbing duo Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen as they try to send the eponymous, nearly featureless sunlit swatch of the mountain. The central figures of each respective film are quite different (even though they’re good friends in real life) and possess varying motivations for their maddening drives, so it’s a disservice to lump them together, but it’s also an unavoidable double feature pairing. Either way, even if you’re not into rock climbing you should still check out these films, as their harrowing stories trump the limitations of the esoteric sport. (Free Solo: Trailer) (Dawn Wall: Trailer)
Synopsis: (Free Solo): “Follow Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000ft high El Capitan Wall. With no ropes or safety gear, he completed arguably the greatest feat in rock climbing history.” (Dawn Wall): “In an unbelievable story of perseverance, free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.”
Best Scene: The Boulder Problem/The Side Traverse
Watch This If You Like: Meru, Touching the Void, Yosemite