2018 Review

31 Dec

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2018 Review

by Tanner Smith

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The time I refer to is when critics (even amateur ones like myself, who don’t get screeners in advance) get to look back on the whole year and sum up which films they liked the most. I always like to read those lists from other critics, particularly from pros like Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times, James Berardinelli of Reelviews, and Chris Stuckmann of YouTube. And I always like to make one for myself every year. But this year, I’ve come to a realization…

These lists are kind of pointless.

I love to make them each year. And I loved making my Top 100 Favorite Movies post back in November 2017 and my Next Top 150 Favorite Movies post just a few months ago. But what did I realize in the time since making both of those lists? It’s that while movies don’t change, our attitudes toward them do. Making a Top 250 list of my favorite movies and announcing it publicly on smithsverdict.com maybe wasn’t the smart choice because there are always going to be other movies that will find a special place in my heart after a certain number of viewings…especially ones that make me wonder why I didn’t initially place them in my year-end lists.

For example, in my 2015 Review, The Stanford Prison Experiment and Spotlight were two of of the Honorable Mentions for my Best-of-2015 list. Now, they’re two of my top 200 personal favorite movies.

See what I mean?

But I think the reason people like to make these year-end lists, and also why I like to make them too, is because they capture how we feel in the moment, especially when we want to celebrate the best movies the year had to offer us. We may think differently of certain ones after repeated viewings, but in the moment, it feels like there’s nothing stronger.

Why continue to stall? I’m going to make this year-end Review anyway. And I’ll probably keep making them for years to come. So let’s do this…

As I always do with these year-end Reviews, I’ll begin the 2018 Review with my least favorite films of the year. And, because I don’t willingly seek out films that have gotten overwhelmingly bad reputations (well…except The Cloverfield Paradox, which snuck up on everyone and disappointed them; but come on, I liked that film), I actually didn’t “hate” any film this year. However, I was disappointed by and gave mixed reviews to a few films I did check out this year. What were those? These are them, in alphabetical order:

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  • The 15:17 to Paris—This was based on an incident in which a small group of people prevented a terrorist attack from occurring, and director Clint Eastwood, in reenacting the event, got the actual heroes to relive the moment. A film with good intentions, to be sure. But the script tries too hard to stretch out moments that take place before the fateful train ride and emphasize that something big is coming in these people’s lives. A documentary about the making of this film would be more interesting.

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  • Josie—Eric (Contracted) England’s neo-noir slow-burn thriller contained good acting (from Sophie Turner and Dylan McDermott) and occasional strong moments of drama and suspense. But it just wasn’t enough to enthrall me overall. (Watch me warm up to it with repeated viewings, the same way I did with A Ghost Story, which I ended up giving a positive review long after a mention in this similar list in the 2017 Review.)

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  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom—This one was actually pretty close to being named my worst pick of the year, because it just wasn’t what I wanted from a “Jurassic” movie. (I’d even argue that it ended where it should have begun.) But there were a few moments in it that kept me calling it anything other than a mere disappointment than an overall-bad flick.

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  • The Kindergarten Teacher—A lot of critics really liked this one…I thought it was creepier than I think it was going for. (And no, I didn’t see the original Israeli film it was based on.)

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  • The Nutcracker and the Four Realms—Would somebody tell Disney that not everything has to be an unnecessary forgetful action-adventure version of something we’re familiar with? I think most of us already have, and Disney is just not listening.

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  • A Wrinkle in Time—Ava Duvernay’s Disney bomb had quite a few winning emotional moments and some uniquely visually pleasing scenes…in between many awkwardly acted scenes with an annoying Reese Witherspoon, an irritating Mindy Kaling, and an overly self-indulgent Oprah Winfrey (who spends half of her role as a giantess—the jokes write themselves).

I won’t mention The Open House, the much-maligned Netflix horror film, because…I only saw that one while listening to Chris Stuckmann & John Flickinger’s mocking commentary over it. So, it doesn’t count. (Side-note: that commentary is one of the more entertaining things I’ve seen this year.)

So, there you go. Nothing I hated this year. And last year, there were three films I hated. Either I made wise decisions to skip certain movies or I’m just too impressionable by the 97 films I did see.

Yes, 97!! I know most critics see over a hundred films per year. But I’m doing this on my own time, so I’m proud of myself for at least seeing more films this year than I did any other year. But there were still a few that I missed (and would still like to see in the future), and those are: Bumblebee, First Man, The Hate U Give, If Beale Street Could Talk, Mary Poppins Returns, Shoplifters, Sicario II, Vice, What They Had, Widows, and You Were Never Really Here

But what about the ones I missed before making my 2017 Review? Did I catch up on any of those? Yes, quite a few: Battle of the Sexes, Brad’s Status, Call Me By Your Name (which I reviewed), Downsizing, Gifted, Molly’s Game, The Shape of Water, Thor: Ragnarok (which ended up on my Next Top 150 Favorite Movies list), and Wind River. Those were among the films I listed in my 2017 Review that I would have liked to see. But what about the ones that surprised me that were originally released in 2017 and I caught up with in 2018? Do I even need to say it’s I, Tonya? Nope—because who doesn’t love that film? Other pleasant surprises were Columbus, Brigsby Bear, and Happy Death Day.

There’s another list I want to bring up before I go into my favorite films of 2018. Last year, I had seen 5 TV/VOD series-seasons, and I acknowledged them all because I thought it was impressive that a diehard movie buff like me would take the time to check out these lengthy stories. How many did I see this year? Five, again! And one of them wasn’t Jessica Jones: Season 2…why haven’t I watched that yet?? Whatever, let’s do it: My Top 5 Favorite TV Series of 2018!

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  1. MST3K: The Gauntlet—They had me at “Mac & Me.” That’s all I’ll say.

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  1. The Sinner: Season 2—I watched the first few episodes of this season with my parents while visiting them once…the next time I visited, I wanted to watch the rest. The Sinner: Season 2 was a uniquely chilling and riveting series that made me want to check out Season 1.

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  1. American Vandal: Season 2—Just before seeing Season 2, my fiancée and I checked out American Vandal: Season 1. I was utterly surprised to find that this mockumentary series about a high-school prank gone wrong (done in the style of popular true-crime series) was not only humorous but also very insightful in its depiction of underachieving high-school students. And Season 2, which goes even bigger with its concept (and is also very “meta” about that as well), is every bit as funny and deep.

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  1. Mr. Mercedes: Season 2—I rewatched Mr. Mercedes: Season 1 (which I placed at #2 in this similar list last year) before checking out Season 2; I liked it even better the second time. Maybe that will happen with Season 2…I certainly hope so, because the season finale STILL has me perplexed!

And my favorite TV season of 2018 is…

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Oh, you already know what it is even without knowing what I willingly seek out in terms of series-seasons. It’s The Haunting of Hill House—I love it for the same reasons everyone else loves it: it’s a horror series with as much emotion and drama as horror and tension. Its creator, Mike Flanagan (whose films I’ve highly recommended on this blog), knows how to balance the terror and drama perfectly. That it’s based on the same source material as my personal favorite horror film (“The Haunting”) is a definite plus. This may actually be my favorite film of the year…a very lengthy film at that. But I have to be consistent and talk about my favorite “films” of 2018. So, I’ll be fair. (And maybe someday, I’ll write a full review for this wonderful series.)

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And now, we come to my most personal favorite films of 2018. But first, some honorable mentions…actually, let’s scratch out the “some” and replace it with “23” honorable mentions because I just can’t help myself: A Quiet Place, Incredibles 2, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Private Life, Ben is Back, BlacKkKlansman, Deadpool 2, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, Filmworker, Before I Wake, The Favourite, Annihilation, Skate Kitchen, Green Book, Hold the Dark, Hereditary, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Crazy Rich Asians, Creed II, A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Bohemian Rhapsody, Overlord, and Love, Simon.

But if you know me, you know I can’t stop there. Other films I really liked this year included, in alphabetical order: 22 July, American Animals, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Blaze, Borg vs. McEnroe, Chappaquiddick, The Cloverfield Paradox (no regrets), The Death of Stalin, Dumplin’, The Endless, Entanglement, Game Night, Hearts Beat Loud, Isle of Dogs, Juliet Naked, The Land of Steady Habits, Mandy, Mowgli, The Mule, The Old Man & the Gun, Outside In, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Ready Player One, A Simple Favor, Summer of 84, Tully, Unsane, and We the Animals 

And, I might as well mention these too: 6 Balloons, Alex Strangelove, Cam, Christopher Robin, Halloween, I Can Only Imagine, Kodachrome, Measure of a Man, New Year New You, Nothing to Hide, The Ritual, Solo, Sorry to Bother You, Support the Girls, Thoroughbreds, and Unfriended: Dark Web

 Now…which 20 films did I enjoy more than those? Let’s do this: these are my Top 20 Favorite Films of 2018!

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  1. Avengers: Infinity War—The Marvel Cinematic Universe Avengers movie we’ve all been waiting for…while eagerly waiting for the NEXT MCU Avengers movie coming in just a few months from now! It’s amazing how far the MCU has come in the 10 years since it started. No one suspected it would become of the most popular movie franchises in history, but here we are. And Avengers: Infinity War gave us exactly what we wanted: a high-octane, 150-minute-long thrill ride that ended with more gasps than we anticipated. Like everyone else who went along for the ride, I can’t wait for Endgame.

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  1. First Reformed—One of the most riveting films of the year, Paul Schrader’s mesmerizing drama about faith being challenged also featured one of the best performances of the year, from Ethan Hawke as a small-church pastor who goes through an odd series of events that forces him to question his faith. Where he goes from there is as emotional as it is convincing. And the ending…whoa.

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  1. Mission: Impossible—Fallout—The “Mission: Impossible” film series has gotten better and better, but I don’t think they can top Fallout, the sixth entry in the franchise. This was an astounding action film; probably the best James Bond movie that didn’t feature James Bond. If it’s anything other than pure adrenaline, I’ll still take it. It’s that impressive.

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  1. Can You Ever Forgive Me?—Marielle Heller’s tightly directed biopic about a failed author (played brilliantly by Melissa McCarthy) who finds other ways to make a living is funny, insightful, and brilliant all at the same time. It effectively blends comedy and drama without distraction.

Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/11/05/can-you-ever-forgive-me-2018/

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  1. Paddington 2—The best family film of the year, no question about it. This movie about a cuddly talking bear practically demands you to love it…and I did. If not for the bear, if not for Hugh Grant’s comedically magnificent performance, if not for the antics the bear gets into…then just see it because it’s charming and cute.

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  1. A Star is Born—This is everyone’s choice for the Oscars (whose nominations are soon to be announced), and I don’t blame them. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut not only showed everyone that Cooper could direct and sing (we already knew he could act), but it also showed them that he could do it extraordinarily well. Just as impressive is Lady Gaga, who is heart-meltingly good.

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  1. Free Solo—I saw quite a few documentaries this year (some more of which will appear in the rest of this list), and one of the most invigorating was Free Solo, a film about a man who risks his life to give it more excitement and meaning, by free-climbing hundred-foot rock faces while leading up to the ultimate climb El Capitan. Even though I knew he’d survive (if he didn’t, this would be a snuff film), that didn’t mean my heart didn’t reach out to this guy in his rough attempts.

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  1. Searching—I saw this mystery-thriller twice in theaters within the same week (I don’t normally do that); it was even more fun the second time. Knowing the twists in the story from the first viewing and still having a great time the second viewing is a major compliment for a film like this. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/11/28/searching-2018/

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  1. Blindspotting—Hard-hitting and soul-shaking, but also funny and energetic, this film is practically ingenious in the way it takes horrific subject matter and inserts some satirical biting comedy into it while also being brutally honest about it. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote and co-starred in this film, and they deserve all the recognition they can get for it.

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  1. Wildlife—This was one of two films I saw this year that made me cry. I couldn’t help it. It was powerfully acted and wonderfully executed, and when it reached a boiling point late in the film, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the central characters. This was actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut (he also co-wrote the script with his long-time girlfriend Zoe Kazan); I can’t wait to see what else he does in this field. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/11/19/wildlife-2018/

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  1. Lean on Pete—Lean on Pete was not only one of my favorite films of 2018; it also had my favorite film protagonist of 2018. And that was 15-year-old Charley (played wonderfully by Charlie Plummer), a kid who keeps on in life despite all the rough goings he continues to come across. This is more than the typical boy-and-his-horse story you might expect upon hearing about the film—you’re making a big mistake if you expect something less deep than what you get. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/07/13/lean-on-pete-2018/

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  1. A 3-way tie between Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Whitney, and Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind—All three of these films are biographical documentaries centered around late talents (Fred Rogers, Whitney Houston, and Robin Williams) who took on the entertainment business and won, creating unforgettable legacies that can be treasured through films like these. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is obviously the best known of the three, but the other two deserve attention as well.

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  1. Boy Erased—I don’t have enough kind words to say about this highly effective drama from Joel Edgerton. It does right what so many Oscar-bait dramas of this sort do wrong. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/11/22/boy-erased-2018/

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  1. Roma—I caught Alfonso Cuaron’s 2-hour-plus slice-of-life drama on Netflix just as everyone went crazy over it, and at first…I didn’t see what the big deal was. The first hour or so isn’t particularly investing, but the remaining hour or so was so powerful it made me realize the necessity of the time leading up to it. This is a quietly effective portrait of how little things in life can affect us deeply. Will I watch it as many times as Cuaron’s similarly themed Y Tu Mama Tambien (#27 on my Top 100 Favorite Movies list)? Time will tell.

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  1. The Tale—The Oscars are probably going to ignore Laura Dern’s amazing performance in this HBO-released drama because…it’s HBO-released. Well, last year, they recognized Netflix-released films as…films. So, I guess there’s a first time for everything. But anyway, Laura Dern gave one of the best performances of the year in one of the most powerfully disturbing films of the year, and it deserves to be seen and admired. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/12/08/the-tale-2018/

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  1. Leave No Trace—This film, directed by Debra Granik (who previously made Winter’s Bone 8 years ago), is simply wonderful. With excellent acting, gorgeous cinematography, an emotional center, and very few words, this film managed to get across themes of isolation, family, breaking away, and other mature themes…all while maintaining a PG rating. (Remember when that rating actually meant something other than “Practically G”?) And I sincerely hope this jump-starts the career of young up-and-comer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, who deserves an Oscar nomination for her work here. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/11/19/leave-no-trace-2018/

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  1. Eighth Grade—The one critically acclaimed I didn’t want to see this year turned out to be one of my favorites. Yes, it reminded me of the uneasy, awkward times of junior high. But it also reminded me of the good, pleasant times (at least by comparison) that made the experience not entirely miserable. As a result, this film about the last week of eighth grade for a socially inept girl (played very well by Elsie Fisher) is effective without being depressing or cloying. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/11/19/eighth-grade-2018/

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  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—I was the guy who gave four stars to both Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” and Marc Webb’s reboot “The Amazing Spider-Man,” simply because I’m such a fan of the web-slinging Marvel superhero that I’ll ever so highly appreciate pretty much any new Spider-Man movie that “feels” right. Maybe I was overexcited, even though I do enjoy both Spider-Man movies. And I’ll stand by my praise for last year’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (which I gave three-and-a-half stars even from the start). But I gave four stars to Into the Spider-Verse, the new animated take on Spider-Man, and I’m calling it my third favorite film of 2018…and I’m fairly certain I’ll stand by it as time goes by. This was a ton of fun and I look forward to seeing it again very soon. It may be the Spider-Man movie that I’ve been waiting for all this time. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/12/22/spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-2018/

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  1. Black Panther—Avengers: Infinity War may have been the MCU movie we wanted, but Black Panther was probably the MCU movie we needed. It was one of the biggest hits of the year for that very reason. Perhaps it was overhyped as the year went on since its February release date. But I don’t care. The film we got turned out to be one of my personal favorite MCU movies, right up there with “Iron Man” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” This was more than your typical superhero movie—it asked tough questions and didn’t have easy answers; the characters were better developed, especially the villain; and the non-action scenes were just about as compelling as the action sequences. It’s as simple as this: I freaking LOVED this film. Review: https://smithsverdict.com/2018/08/18/black-panther-2018/

For a long time, Black Panther was my favorite film of the year. Every time I saw a new emotionally gripping film, like The Tale or Won’t You Be My Neighbor? or Leave No Trace, I would think “This is my favorite film of the year”…and then, time would pass, and I would keep going back to Black Panther. So, I had to think long and hard before making my ultimate decision for #1. And what did it turn out to be?

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  1. Three Identical Strangers—I hear a fictional cinematic retelling is being told of the story this excellent documentary is centered on. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good idea, because this true-life story is so unbelievable that only a documentary (or a written memoir) could help convince audiences that this really happened. And within the first few minutes of Three Identical Strangers, which combined both interviews and dramatic reenactments to present this extraordinarily fascinating story of three triplets who met for the first time at age 19, I was hooked and ready to see what the rest of the documentary had to offer. I was thoroughly impressed from start to finish, but more importantly, I was emotionally invested. I felt for these people while I was also fascinated by their true story about how they met and where their lives went from there. It reminded me that sometimes, documentaries can give me richer characters and more compelling situations than most fictional stories, because truth can be stranger than fiction. I loved this film wholeheartedly. It’s wonderfully made, had numerous twists and turns that kept me intrigued, contained memorable characters in real-life people, and also might have provoked more discussion than any other film I’ve seen all year. And for that reason, plus many more, Three Identical Strangers is my favorite film of 2018.

Man, I love this time of year! See you in 2019!

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