Snap decisions

Movie guy Bob Grimm culls 2018’s best and worst flicks

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

We are a little later than usual with the annual cinematic roundup. Go ahead and blame me, for I am a lazy, aloof and strikingly handsome bastard with a penchant for Star Wars toys and an unholy obsession involving his new air fryer.

You might have heard me yammer about it, but now is the perfect time to reiterate: Netflix ain’t screwing around. As you will see below, films they produced make prominent appearances—good and bad—in my lists. Along with the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Sandra Bullock and Adam Sandler, the likes of Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, Damien Chazelle and more are coming into the Netflix fold.

Netflix isn’t about sifting through third rate movies like The Shadow with Alec Baldwin or Mobsters with Christian Slater to kill time on a Tuesday night anymore. They are the real deal for original programming and, yes, a much improved movie streaming selection. There’s a crap ton of Monty Python on the platform as I write this!

You won’t see a lot of blockbusters in my top 20 this year. Much of my movie joy came from smaller big screen efforts and, yes, Netflix originals and other films released to streaming during limited theatrical runs. Remember the Keystone II Cinema, the art house theater we used to have in Reno? That’s rapidly becoming your Smart TV.

So, here they are, my top 20 favorites followed by the 10 movies that aged me 15 years and left me hovering around the candy counter looking all disheveled, bitter and dismayed. I got a lot of dirty looks from confounded theater managers. They probably thought I was going to full-on Jackie Chan side-kick their precious glass candy counter displays and ruin their pretentious M&M arrangements. Hey, I pay for my tickets. I can torment the vendors.

The best

1 The Ballad of Buster Scruggs What’s that you say? The Coen brothers made a movie this year? Why, yes, they did, and with a little help from Netflix. While this six-part Western anthology film had a limited big-screen release, it was available almost immediately on the streaming service, evidence of a major seismic shift as to how big directors might make their movies in the future.

This dark delight stars the likes of Tim Blake Nelson as a psycho singing cowboy, Tom Waits as the best prospector this side of Gabby Hayes, and Zoe Kazan as a kind woman with a tragically loud dog. It’s pure Coen gold, and just the latest triumph from the duo who have never made a bad movie.

2 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse This had me thinking, “I’ve never seen anything like this!” the whole time. If you think comic book movies are getting a little stale—I’m calling you out, Aquaman!—then get a load of this one. It’s a visual delight, with a snappy script to go along with it. And, yes, a movie with Nicolas Cage in it has made the top 10. More Cage surprises later!

3 Hereditary Toni Collette is 2018’s best actress in the year’s scariest movie. Oh, the amazing things she does with her face and voice in this movie. She scared the ever-living piss out of me. I’d also like to give a shout out to Alex Wolff and his incredible classroom spazz-out, one of the craziest scenes of recent memory.

4 Thunder Road Jim Cummings writes, directs and stars as a police officer who loses his shit multiple times during the course of the film, but most notably in the opening scene, a one-shot eulogy to a dead mom that must be seen to be believed. The movie is billed as a comedy, and it is certainly funny, but no film had as many emotional gut shots in 2018 as this one.

Cummings zigs and zags from hilarious to frighteningly sad with an efficiency that earns him my pick for performance of the year. You probably didn’t hear about this movie before reading about it here. Well, you’ve heard about it now. It’s available for rent. Watch it, and be prepared to have your ass blown out through your living room’s picture window, the one with all the plants in it.

5 Black KKKlansman Spike Lee comes roaring back with his best movie since Malcolm X. This is the true story—well, sort of … Spike takes some liberties—of a black policeman (John David Washington) who posed as a white supremacist on the phone to infiltrate a chapter of the KKK. He eventually got a KKK membership card and some one-on-one time with David Duke. It features great work from Adam Driver as a fellow policeman and Topher Grace as Duke.

6 Eighth Grade All hail Elsie Fisher, the talented young actress who plays Kayla Day in this astoundingly good take on the life of a junior high school misfit. Fisher and Josh Hamilton make for the best father-daughter film combo of 2018—and there were a lot of great ones—in a movie that pulls no punches on the awkwardness of adolescence and the undeniable influence of social media.

7 If Beale Street Could Talk Director Barry Jenkins follows up his Oscar-winning Moonlight with a beautiful, heartbreakingly great movie. Moving performances from all, including Regina King as a steel-nerved mother and Stephan James as a jailed man proclaiming his innocence. It’s one of the best-looking movies to come out in 2018. (See page 17 for a full review.)

8 Annihilation This has some of the best sci-fi/horror since the first Alien, along with performances by Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Oscar Isaac that will freak you out. Beware the videotape scene. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

9 The Death of Stalin A hilarious satire with a little bit of Dr. Strangelove in its DNA. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, making no effort to change his accent. Need I say more?

10 A Star Is Born “Shallow” will win an Oscar for best song, and Lady Gaga is the best actress frontrunner thanks to Bradley Cooper’s extremely watchable passion project. Even my Gaga-hating parents had to admit the moment she joined Cooper for “Shallow” was something else. At one point, Jack White was considered for Cooper’s role. That would’ve been one weird movie.

A couple of days before turning this story in, Gaga lost her Golden Globe to Glenn Close. This is bullshit!

11 Leave No Trace A homeless father and daughter (Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie) try to elude authorities in Portland. Foster continues to grow as an actor, and McKenzie gives one of the year’s best breakthrough performances.

12 The Favourite Three actresses in excellent form (Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Golden Globe winner Olivia Colman) equally distribute the thunder in this funny, sinister look at Queen Anne and her confidantes in the 18th Century.

13 Stan & Ollie This one got a late awards season push and came out of nowhere with an incredible John C. Reilly (prosthetics-aided) performance as movie legend Oliver Hardy. Steve Coogan is just as good as partner Stan Laurel. They recreate Laurel & Hardy moments that will bring tears to your eyes.

14 Avengers: Infinity War Yes, the Thanos chronicles are a blast to watch, and bringing the Guardians of the Galaxy into the fray was one of the single coolest things on screens this year. It’ll be interesting to see if the deadly consequences of that Thanos finger snap stick this year when Avengers: Endgame hits screens.

15 Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson, one of our very best live-action directors, is quietly becoming one of cinema’s all-time great stop-motion animation auteurs.

16 Mandy I very nearly gave Nicolas Cage the Best Actor award this year, but Jim Cummings narrowly beats him out. Still, Cage’s bathroom vodka-guzzling scene is the best thing he’s done in a movie since guzzling vodka in Leaving Las Vegas. This movie commits to a certain psychedelic insanity that Cage is very game for, as is Linus Roache as the Manson-like cult leader who gets real upset if you don’t like his album. Yep, movies with Cage have cracked the top 20 twice this year.

Are we witnessing a Cage renaissance? Probably not. He’s too hard up for cash. (He loves those classic, expensive comic books!) He’ll keep doing shit movies along with his buddies in the We Make a Lot of Shitty Movies Boys Club, namely John Travolta, Bruce Willis and John Cusack. Still, it’s nice to see a year where his talents shine through. (He was also super fun in Mom and Dad.)

17 Sorry to Bother You Holy heck, this movie is bonkers. It’s not only one of the funniest but also one of the scariest movies of the year. Lakeith Stanfield makes all the craziness work with the help of Tessa Thompson—a busy actress in 2018—and Boots Riley’s crazy script and direction.

18 The Sisters Brothers The year’s other great, dark Western starred John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix—two actors who were on fire in 2018—as the title characters. And while he didn’t get a lot of recognition this year, Jake Gyllenhaal was terrific here and in Wildlife.

19 Burning Two men (Ah-in Yoo and Steven Yeun) deal with obsession in unhealthy ways. Chang-dong Lee’s hypnotic mystery is a legit bone-chiller.

20 Revenge Some spoiled rich boys mess with the wrong girl (an awesome Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) and get their asses supremely whooped in this nasty revenge thriller.

20 more “really good” movies

Blindspotting, Thoroughbreds, Hearts Beat Loud, First Man, Game Night, Halloween, Wildlife, The Hate You Give, Tully, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Roma, American Animals, Blockers, Black Panther, You Were Never Really Here, A Quiet Place, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Mid 90s, Beast, First Reformed

The worst

1 Fifty Shades Freed This movie was so unromantic that my inner love barometers, that being my heart, brain and unmentionables, joined together within my body and wrote up a protest manifesto on an accidentally ingested gum wrapper stating that they refused to ever see a Fifty Shades movie again. As if stricken with dysentery, I violently shat the written protest out my ass three hours after seeing this movie. Turns out my heart and unmentionables have surprisingly good penmanship.

Fifty Shades Freed

2 Aquaman This one started going south around the time Nicole Kidman sucked down the goldfish. I think that was somewhere around four minutes in. Aquaman has always been the dopiest of superheroes, and this movie feeds that legacy.

3 Bohemian Rhapsody The only Queen-related thing worse than this embarrassingly weak, PG-13 treatment of Freddie Mercury’s life was Queen’s posthumous Mercury album, Made in Heaven. I have nightmares that Rami Malek’s prosthetic teeth are coming to get me.

As I was writing this article, Bohemian beat out A Star is Born for a Golden Globe. Between this, and that pitiful 2019 Coachella lineup that was just released, I’m feeling very out of touch.

4 Vox Lux Natalie Portman plays a character modeled after Lady Gaga whose career is paralleled with terrorist acts. OK, that’s stupid enough right there. Portman shows up about halfway through the movie and delivers one of the worst performances of her career, capped with a glitzy closing concert attempt that is pure awful. Gaga doesn’t have to fret about this one stealing her thunder. Portman isn’t going to get a Vegas residency.

5 A Wrinkle in Time When I think back on this movie, all I can really remember is a giant Oprah wandering around in some green screen CGI scenario looking like she was trying to find the water cooler or craft services rather than actually participating in the scene.

6 Skyscraper This movie comes off like Die Hard impregnated The Towering Inferno, and then Inferno went on a nasty heroin-and-alcohol bender while the film baby gestated, ultimately birthing this hideous, tortured movie thing.

7 The Predator Some precocious kid causes some Predators to crash land on Earth, but budget constraints keep the fights in the forest and a couple of drab backyards (no big city squareoffs). The Predator dogs don’t add anything to the fun, but they are a bit more animated than star Boyd Holbrook. You know you’re in big trouble when you bet your franchise on a guy named Boyd Holbrook.

8 The Happytime Murders I thought puppets ejaculating silly string was a sure bet for a good time, but this mess features Melissa McCarthy spinning her wheels and not a single legitimate laugh from an attempt to make a naughty puppet movie. Stick with Team America for profane puppet laughs.

9 The Meg And, with this, Hollywood finds a way to mess up the most precious of cinematic opportunities, that being a Godzilla-sized shark movie. It wusses out with a PG-13 rating, it puts Jason Statham as the main character—he’s a supporting player at best—and it doesn’t have a Richard Dreyfus cameo in it.

10 Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom I have had it up to here with the T. Rex unknowingly saving the day in these movies. It seems as if every time the damn thing takes a walk or a dump, it saves a protagonist’s life or averts a nuclear crisis or saves the American housing market or some bullshit like that. I bought the damn thing saving the day once at the end of the Spielberg original because I checked the Vegas odds, and they pushed the likelihood of such a thing happening in a singular dino crisis, but come on? Just once, the T. Rex needs to seriously fuck things up in a bad way when it comes on screen. It ain’t fucking Iron Man!

15 more shite movies

Action Point, Mute, Life of the Party, Pacific Rim: Uprising, The Cloverfield Paradox, Death Wish, Winchester, Hell Fest, Venom, Bird Box, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Searching, Operation Finale, Upgrade, Ready Player One

The Grimmy awards

BEST ACTRESS: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade), Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), Natalie Portman (Annihilation), Carey Mulligan (Wildlife)

BEST ACTOR: Jim Cummings (Thunder Road), Nicolas Cage (Mandy), John C. Reilly (Stan & Ollie), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), John David Washington (BlacKKKlansman)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Emma Stone (The Favourite), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Josh Hamilton (Eighth Grade), Alex Wolff (Hereditary), Tom Waits (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Timothy Blake Nelson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Rafael Casal (Blindspotting)

WORST ACTRESS: Natalie Portman (Vox Lux)

WORST ACTOR: Bruce Willis (Death Wish)

WORST ACTRESS IN A GOOD MOVIE: Angela Bassett (Mission Impossible: Fallout)

WORST ACTOR IN A GOOD MOVIE: Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns)

BEST ACTRESS IN A BAD MOVIE: Sandra Bullock (Bird Box)

BEST ACTOR IN A BAD MOVIE: Tie: Christian Bale (Vice), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)

SINGLE GREATEST 2018 MOVIE MOMENT: Tim Blake Nelson sprouting wings in Buster Scruggs

SECOND SINGLE GREATEST 2018 MOVIE MOMENT: Lady Gaga going into the big crescendo close of “Shallow” in A Star is Born. Goose … bumps

BEST KITCHEN GADGET: My new air fryer! French fries and chicken breasts with no oil! It’s a kitchen miracle!

BEST SCORE: Suspiria by Thom Yorke (The soundtrack is better than the movie)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: If Beale Street Could Talk, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Roma

BEST OCEANOGRAPHY: The internet tells me the best place to get your Oceanography degree is Kutztown University of Pennsylvania! Go get your fishy Bachelor’s degree!

BEST MAKEUP: John C. Reilly becoming Oliver Hardy in Stan & Ollie

BEST MAKEOUT: Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried in First Reformed

BEST REASON TO AVOID SNOWBOARDING: Because you will break your ass and because it’s really cold and wet. You have better things to do with your time like pole vaulting.

BIGGEST BLOCKBUSTER LETDOWNS: Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

BIGGEST LEFTOVER LETDOWNS: Tater-tots. They totally lose their essence on the second day.

BEST MOVIE TO WATCH WITH MY DOG: Isle of Dogs, but not for reasons you would expect! She digs the way they made cotton balls look like smoke!