SN&R’s best and worst films of 2018
Our critics applaud and denounce this year’s standouts
Any year a new Orson Welles movie debuts is a good year for cinema. No matter the ups and downs of the release schedule, at least the existence of the master director’s unfinished final film The Other Side of the Wind provides 2018 with an undeniable saving grace. Welles is still showing up the Hollywood hacks more than 30 years after his death, and while his restless genius and maverick spirit may feel like a thing of the past, film critics Jim Lane and Daniel Barnes found reasons to feel good about the state of cinema in 2018 … and then some more reasons to push the panic button.
Written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also co-starred, this was a gritty, riveting examination of a remarkably wide range of racial, social and economic issues in today’s Oakland. Carlos López Estrada’s direction, sensitive as an exposed nerve, was another plus.
An astonishing debut by writer-director Bo Burnham, this was a sublime portrait of a girl timidly inching into the summer before high school. As Burnham’s sweet, sensitive heroine, Elsie Fisher gave the best performance of any gender, any age all year; it would break the heart of a marble statue.
A 1962 tour of the Jim Crow South by an African-American musician and his Italian-American driver provided the factual framework for brilliant performances by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. It might have been painfully predictable, but under Peter Farrelly’s direction, Ali and Mortensen made it something akin to poetry in motion.
The Hate U Give
As Blindspotting was an examination of race relations in today’s America, this one showcased a star-making performance by Amandla Stenberg as a teenager pulled back-and-forth between her black neighborhood and her white, upscale school. While offering no easy answers, it still gave a heartening aura of hope.
Three desperate women undertake a risky heist to get out from under the mess left by their deceased husbands. Another towering performance by Viola Davis (matched by Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki), plus turbo-powered direction by Steve McQueen, made this more than a mere variation on Ocean’s 8.
The bandit of Sherwood Forest took a horrible beating from this moronic, sub-literate pile of garbage. Among the perpetrators, some careers may recover, while others don’t deserve to.
Lousy horror movies are hardly an endangered species, but few are as inept as this. Writer David Birke, director Sylvain White, and cinematographer Luca Del Puppo all disgraced themselves, while four eager actresses (it would be a kindness not to name them) went down with the ship.
Super Troopers 2
Broken Lizard, the worst comedy team since Wheeler and Woolsey 80 years ago, are all pushing (or past) 50, and what once passed for youthful folly now looks like wasted lives. Also wasted was 99 minutes of anyone who sat through their latest turkey.
Just as Rolls-Royce can turn out a lemon now and then, even Marvel Studios can occasionally produce movies like this. As anti-hero Tom Hardy’s ex-girlfriend, Michelle Williams survived this train wreck with dignity intact. Hardy, writers Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel, and director Ruben Fleischer, not so much. In fact, not at all.
A Wrinkle in Time
Everything went wrong in director Ava DuVernay’s rendition of the classic kiddie sci-fi novel, from the casting of three charmless children in the leads to gussying up Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling as campy disco drag queens. Many of 2018’s Razzie Awards are spoken for.
An oblong mystery about a South Korean slacker who becomes obsessed with a beautiful but flighty ex-classmate and her wealthy, westernized boyfriend, Lee Chang-dong’s strangely chilly film is powerfully enigmatic and immaculately constructed.
Much like the folk songs heard throughout the film, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s romantic tragedy takes a story of heartbreak and horror and transforms it into something beautiful and timeless.
The Death of Stalin
Already the premier political satirist of his era, In the Loop director and Veep creator Armando Iannucci pulls off his most impressive feat yet, turning the corpse-strewn power struggle that followed Joseph Stalin’s sudden death into a lacerating and disturbingly relevant farce.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos takes a lean, witty script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara about conniving women and weak men and imbues it with a pitiless absurdism that is peculiarly Lanthimos-ian. The result feels like a ridiculously opulent cross between Dangerous Liaisons and All About Eve.
Ethan Hawke gives the performance of the year as a tormented priest confronting oblivion in this story of environmental and existential anguish. Writer-director Paul Schrader blends the raw intimacy of Bresson and the scathing despair of Bergman with his own sensual and spiritual obsessions.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated celebration of Japanese culture and cinema is another elaborately embossed masterwork of careful world-building, impeccable craftsmanship and messy emotional payoffs.
Led by a ferocious performance from newcomer Helena Howard, Josephine Decker’s film forces us to determine from moment to moment whether we’re watching a fantasy or a documentary, an acting exercise or an exhibition of mental illness.
In a far superior alternate universe, Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic revenge fantasy would play on the most gigantic IMAX screens imaginable, while the latest Marvel releases would get dumped to video-on-demand.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Human special-effect Tom Cruise plays super-spy Ethan Hunt for the sixth time, and while nothing in Christopher McQuarrie’s Fallout should feel unfamiliar to anyone remotely aware of the Mission: Impossible bag of tropes, it’s still the freshest action movie of 2018.
You Were Never Really Here
We have become so spoiled by the greatness of Joaquin Phoenix that barely anyone batted an eye when he gave three excellent lead performances in 2018. The best of the bunch came in Lynne Ramsay’s scarred and fractured story of a violent, demon-plagued veteran who rescues stolen girls.
More snot-nosed nihilism and fangless meta-commentary from Marvel’s “merc with a mouth,” once again played by Ryan Reynolds as a homicidal rape-joke comedian.
Fifty Shades Freed
Putrid even by the subterranean standard set by the first two entries in the Fifty Shades franchise, this trilogy-ender had the temerity to end with a “heartwarming” montage of its abusive protagonists.
Klutzy filmmaking usually provides some level of schadenfreude fun, but never has ineptitude been less entertaining than in Kevin Connolly’s hopelessly muddled biopic.
The most malodorous awards bait of 2018, Peter Farrelly’s rancid road movie is MAGA for white liberals. Mahershala Ali survives with a shred of dignity intact, but Viggo Mortensen may never recover.
A Wrinkle in Time
Publicist turned director Ava DuVernay had the entire universe rooting for her big-budget adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle novel, but the result was garish and empty.