By Ted Zep
Well, with 2018 officially in the books, it’s time to reflect on the year that was in the cinema. Filled with some terrific sequels, there were also a handful of original properties that made for a fun year at the movies. As a reminder, this isn’t a list of necessarily the *best* films of the year, but rather those that I found the most enjoyable. Crafted by my particular taste, as well as an unreliable MoviePass subscription that has since been canceled, I give you “The Year in Film: 2018.”
Ready Player One: Based on the 2011 novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One had every opportunity to be great. Set in the dystopic future of 2044, it follows the adventures of teenager Wade Watts as he maneuvers the tricky world of a video game as he follows clues to find the creator’s real-world fortune. Equal parts mystery and treasure hunt, the novel is chock full of action, adventure and pop culture references. The film, however, falls far short of that. It collapses under the weight of a reliance on computer-generated images, a mediocre script and uninspired performances. Ready Player One is a genuine disappointment.
The Nun: Directed by Corin Hardy and starring Demian Bichir and Taissa Farmiga, this stink bomb is the fifth in The Conjuring series. Despite earning an impressive $365 million at the box office, this movie arrived at the theaters DOA, weighted down by a sludgy plot and cloying dependency on jump scares. The screening I attending garnered more laughs than shrieks.
Winchester: Even the uber-talented Helen Mirren couldn’t save this movie. Set in San Jose in 1906 at the famed Winchester House, it follows the story of Sarah Winchester, the widow of the creator of the Winchester rifle, as she is haunted within the walls of the family estate. Despite a cool premise based on “actual” events, Winchester is impossibly boring. It is dry, joyless and a general waste of time.
10.) Paddington 2: Framed and arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, Paddington Bear returns in this sequel to the 2014 hit to clear his name and find the perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday. Filled with charm and wonder, Paddington 2 will connect in a big way with most viewers.
9.) Game Night: Set during the course of a tumultuous evening, Game Night follows the misadventures of a group of friends who participate in a murder mystery party that spins horribly out of control. Guided by a witty script filled with dark humor and commendable performances by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, Game Night is a prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. It’s an unexpectedly fun time.
8.) BlacKkKlansman: Based on an unthinkably true story, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman recounts the tale of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer in the 1970’s who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. John David Washington (Stallworth), Adam Driver and Topher Grace (David Duke) star in this politically-charged, thought-provoking film that felt unquestionably relevant in Donald Trump’s 2018 America.
7.) Creed II: Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) returns to the ring, this time to battle the son of boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), Viktor. (Ivan Drago killed Creed’s father in the ring in Rocky IV.) Directed by Cleveland’s own Steven Caple Jr. (The Land) and penned by Sylvester Stallone, the script gives depth and humanity to the younger Drago (Florian Munteanu) that previously hasn’t been exhibited in the franchise. As always, Jordan is captivating on screen. He is the veritable definition of a “movie star.”
6.) Upgrade: In the tradition of the Deathwish series, Upgrade is a violent and visceral revenge picture. It mixes cyberpunk chic with buckets of gore to create an enthralling take on vintage grindhouse fare. However, director Leigh Whannell was sure to inject an underlying blitheness beneath the moody tone of the film.
5.) Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Based on a true story, the film follows the story of Leigh Israel, a formerly successful biographer on the slagging side of her career who uses her skills as a writer to forge letters by famous historical figures to make a living. Melissa McCarthy delivers a performance as Israel that is acerbic, sympathetic, hilarious and undeniably charming. The relationship between Israel and co-conspirator Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) is relatable and, ultimately, heartwrenching.
4.) Love, Simon: Love, Simon is a teenage coming-of-age comedy/drama that follows the story of Simon Spier, a closeted gay adolescent who is attempting to find the identity of an unidentified classmate on which he has a crush. The picture does a terrific job of relaying the confusion, angst and change that one goes through during that period of life. It is steeped with warmth, compassion and humor along the way. It’s a terrific little film.
3.) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: A teenage boy is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man. Sounds familiar, right? This animated feature is based on the iconic web-slinger (first created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko) and reimagined in 2011 in comic book form by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli. This animated version follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as deals with his newfound superpowers and traversing life at an elite New York City prep school as well as being an aspiring graffiti artist. When a particle accelerator created by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) malfunctions and causes an opening between parallel universes, Morales must team up with numerous other versions of Spider-Man to defeat Kingpin and remedy the dimensional tear.
Stylistically, Into the Spider-Verse is stunning. The animation is electric and trippy. The script is plucky and buoyant. It has the snark and charm of the character first created in 1962, but with the accessibility and strut of 2018. The cast is flush with Hollywood talents like Hailee Steinfeld, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Chris Pine and Nicholas Cage. In an era of tired, formulaic superhero fare, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse provides a youthful, modern take on the genre. It is easily the most pleasant surprise in cinema in 2018.
2.) Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: This documentary about the life and career of children’s PBS television program host Fred Rogers is one of the most joyous and hopeful films created in years. It deftly and succinctly captures the spirit and intentions of Rogers and reminds viewers that it takes but a single person to create a culture of happiness and optimism that can spread like wildfire.
1.) Halloween: 40-years after Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) faced the maniacal Michael Myers on Halloween night, she is confronted by him again. This is a far different Strode than viewers were first introduced to by John Carpenter 1978. Viewers encounter a Strode who let the trauma of that night color her existence, turning her into an alcoholic divorcee. However, the tragedy of that horror was not lost on her and she is prepared for her falconer’s return.
The film, the 11th in the series, adroitly captures the energy and tone of John Carpenter’s original in a way that no other sequel has. It trembles and rages as Myer’s slashes his way through Haddonfield, IL toward an inevitable confrontation with Strode. It is easily the best sequel of the lot
Scary, atmospheric and an intoxicatingly tense theatrical experience, Halloween is my favorite film of 2018.
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