Prepping to write this final post about 2018 I realized that I may not watch as many new movies as I once did. While some of this is just due to my personality (I read a lot more than watch TV or movies these days) some of this also has to do with lack of interesting new ideas in film. Marred by remakes and Hollywood making a movie about every video game and toy from my childhood to try to cash in in a desperate attempt to regain their billion dollar industry of the past has filled the world of film with a lot of 300 lb turds in the last decade. My issues with the movie industry aside, here is a list of movies I watched in 2018 that I feel are worth mentioning.
Avengers: Infinity War:
The first part of the two part culmination of the past decade of Marvel movies brought about the full introduction of Thanos and his quest for the Infinity stones. Carefully crafting each movie previous to nudge the narrative in this direction has been on of the MCU’s strong points. With the introduction of characters taken care of in their own solo movies it allows the action and plot to move forward without having to get bogged down in a lot of character introduction and development.
The movie employs the action and CG graphics that have made the MCU so entertaining but also plays at the emotions of people who have watched since Iron Man’s first movie. Alliance connections change and heal over the course of the movie to push all the respective characters universes together. The first meetings of the Guardians of the Galaxy with the rest of the MCU is a shining funny moment.
The Russo brothers have managed to combine all of the worlds together to help craft a well thought out plot to end this phase of the MCU. The script is a brilliantly played out tragedy where loss and insurmountable odds leave you feeling that there has to be a great redemption coming. If Captain Marvel’s involvement in Infinity War Part II is half of what Black Panther’s was in Part I it will be an amazing ride as we will be forced to bid farewell to some of the actors that have inhabited the now beloved characters up to this point. Hopefully Marvel continues to push the narrative and envelope as well as they did so far and have another good decade build of movies to another great massive battle that were the most interesting reads of the books themselves.
With Disney now owning a majority of the Marvel properties with its purchase of Fox in 2018 we can hope that we can see better versions of the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and X-Men coming in the near future.
Aaron Sorkin has been one of my favorite screen and television writers for a long time. His use of dialog is emulated by many but none have mastered his caliber of wordsmith-ing in the realm of entertainment. Molly’s Game is his first foray into directing as well and was a key curiosity to me in regard to watching this film.
Based on a true story, it manages to draw you in with wonderful story and editing which push the story forward while keeping the watcher caught in the web of wonderful dialog. The acting of Jessica Chastain is wonderful and shows the drive of the female character when she refuses to be bested by petty men.
Idris Elba also turns in a great performance and once again shows how he is masterful at dropping his British accent for American characters. It doesn’t hurt that he has done this many times since being on The Wire over a decade ago. His character is empathetic as well as smart in his own right.
Great lighting and wardrobe choices as well as well placed editing manages to condense a multi year drama into a 2 hour movie without it feeling rushed or too drawn out. The narrative keeps you interested and invested in all of the characters and manages to convey a story of loss, rebirth, mistakes, and redemption excellently.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A movie that was well worth the praise it received by the critics. A skilled drama in the vein of the Cohen Brothers (but no actually done by them) it manages to keep drama and plot high but also allows the irony and dark humor of certain moments to shine through. While the movie is limited to only a few different locations it makes the most of the space available to help tell the story of the characters.
Frances McDormand always manages to provide great performances. Once again she shows a character who has great strength as well as vulnerability. Sam Rockwell’s performance is amazingly understated but well distributed in its high points. Rockwell has been under appreciated as an actor for years and it was nice to see him finally put a performance out there that gained the notice he is so deserved. There are also great performances from Woody Harrelson and a great short (no pun intended) dramatic performance by Peter Dinklage.
A great story of loss, strength, mystery and forgiveness. While it did tend to drag for moments here and there, the deliberate pacing is great for the feel of the movie. The ending was somewhat a let down originally, however, after a repeated watch and some distance I realize now how great it is because it did not explicitly point the final narrative in a specific direction which allows you your own interpretation of what may have happened next.
Being a history major who has studied both writing and journalism this movie was a no brainer favorite of the year. The story of the Washington Post’s decision to print the Pentagon papers which were still classified at the time. This movie shows the struggle over the decision to publish after obtaining the documents and the potential impact to both the personal and professional lives of Ben Bradlee as well as Katherine Graham (the chief editor and publisher of the paper, respectively).
This was a pivotal moment in American history with the Vietnam War being highly unpopular and having been fought through three presidencies. The Pentagon papers brought to light the fact that the Government itself received assessments that were contrary to what they were telling the American people about the war for years. While mired in stalemate the Nixon administration pushed that there was a peace that was close at hand and that it was a winnable war, this all contrary to the professional opinion of his advisors as well as the RAND Corporation (a government think tank that was also studying and recommending actions).
As always Stephen Spielberg turns out a great historical period piece. The attention to detail and style is always something that the director has brought to his historical pictures. Teaming once again with Tom Hanks in a dramatic role he manages to put a contemporary perspective on events that occurred over thirty years ago. Not only does Hanks perform wonderfully, his interaction with Meryl Streep shows the trust that their two characters had with one another in terms of how to manage their business.
Few films manager to tell a story of the past and also show the parallels of events happening today. The attacks on the media by the paranoid President Nixon mirror those of President Trump. One of the main differences between the 70’s and today is the respect that investigative journalists and traditional media once commanded compared to where they are today. Although part of this is self inflicted after their handling of the 2016 election, an equal amount is due to the constant attacks by the administration. In the end the movie serves as a great dramatic film but also provokes thought of how history is repeating itself.
Bad Times at the El Royale
A noir film to its roots, Bad Times at the El Royale manages to hit all of the marks. Small sets, varied characters and well thought out set production and lighting make this film a technically great film from the production standpoint. While some elements of cliche regarding the genre are used, they are employed with great skill and are looked at seriously as opposed to a trope of noir.
The film takes place at a fictional hotel that is on the border of California and Nevada and manages to inhabit both states simultaneously. While the hotel has seen better days it is an interesting set piece for the drama that unfolds over the two hour run time. The contrasting colors and styles that make up the separate sides of the hotel also manage to bring out the contrasting characters in the story.
The cast of this film would make you wonder if the plot and its execution could live up to the sheer ability of the actors alone. Including such names as Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and a short appearance by Nick Offerman, the movie has enough star power to keep you interested. The twisting of tales between the characters past brings a feel of a Tarantino movie with all of their paths coming together at a certain point.
One of the great things about this movie is that nobody is who they seem at the beginning and those who you think will survive until the end don’t. This is one of the strong points of the movie as the predictability of other movies can get tiresome and the twists are easily spotted less than an hour into the story. However, Bad Times manages to keep you wondering where this will all end up.
In some ways this movie reminded me of the film Identity, another great noir film, in that it is unpredictable. The characters are all forced into a situation that only originally was the problem of a few, and in the end the resolve of the film leaves you satisfied and calls for multiple viewings as it is enjoyable.
While the film did not make a lot of money and was not as popular among theater audiences as industry standards would hav hoped these factors are not a valid assessment of the film. If anything this points toward the short attention span and the limited memory of the audience. Few people who go to movies today are interested in something that unravels at a deliberate pace and is subdued in its colors and tones. They want loud, splashy, visually energetic CG performances to keep them entertained without having to think. I feel that this film will find its audience on home video like so many great cult films do.
The Death of Stalin
The majority of this list has been filled by dramatic movies, however, there were a few bright spots for comedy this year. I chose The Death of Stalin because it was largely underrated but a well done movie. The worst thing about critics of movies is that most of them see comedies as something that should churn out a laugh every five minutes which is why the concept of dark comedies are always lost on them.
This movie is a political farce of sorts that manages to highlight the intrigue and backstabbing among heads of state that happens when great political change comes about unexpectedly. The movie begins shortly before the actual death of Stalin but the majority takes place in the aftermath. While a historical piece the film does take some creative license with the characters and the events.
The cast is well put together and includes Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Jason Issacs and others. While the actors play their characters quite seriously this only manages to allow the irony of many situations to shine through. Another great thing about the movie is that it makes you think afterwards. You empathize and root for certain people and find humor in their words and actions, but then you realize at a certain point that each of these characters were really mass murderers who sent millions to their deaths or imprisonment at the Gulag. Some of this is made quite clear by the rounding up of people and the executions of others.
While the subject matter is serious the movie manages to entertain and inform. The small bits of the movie that are intentionally funny are outweighed by the times where the humor is strictly unintentional and ironic. The characters are well played and the plot well executed and the movie is worth a watch regardless of it’s reviews.