2018 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

Hello!

Wow!  Here we go into our year EIGHT of The MN Movie Man.  I can’t believe it! 

Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2018.  As is typically the case, by the time it came to make this list things became a bit of a jumble and I decided to choose the movies that I had the strongest reaction to when I saw them.  I don’t revisit movies often but anything in the Top 5 are films that I’d add to my collection.  I also cheated a little bit…but it’s my blog so I can do what I want 🙂

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  

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Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

5. A Quiet Place – John Krasinski always felt like he’d best be remembered for playing Jim on NBC’s The Office but after writing/directing this spine-chilling genre film I’d be willing to bet they’ll also mention A Quiet Place in a list of his major accomplishments.  Turning a horror film on its ear and making it a metaphor about parenting was a smart move in keeping things in unfamiliar territory to audiences.  With his wife in the leading role and two dynamite child actors as their children, Krasinksi assembled a perfect roster across the board.  It was scary, it was emotional, and it was fantastically well made with a high re-watchability factor.  Super.

4. A Star is Born (2018) – After three previous versions of A Star is Born the question everyone wanted to know was if the story of a fading rock star falling in love with a pop star as she rises to fame would work in a modern setting.  Coupled with a stellar soundtrack and the kind of movie star chemistry you rarely see in these days, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut was a knockout.  The first hour is better than most entire films released in 2018 and even if the second half can’t quite reach those same heights the work done by Lady Gaga and Cooper (not to mention Sam Elliott) is remarkable.  It’s even better on repeat viewings.

3. If Beale Street Could Talk – when the screening of this one was over I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about it, it’s one that will stick to your bones for many days to come.  In the days and weeks that have followed since I saw this Barry Jenkins adaptation of James Baldwin’s short novel, I’ve found it hard to get it out of my mind or shake it’s unforgettable imagery.  The performances are phenomenal and haunting – the way Jenkins has many of the actors deliver their lines directly to camera has a chilling effect you won’t soon forget.  A lyrical and beautifully constructed work of art.

2. Love Simon / Crazy Rich Asians – hooray for the return of the romantic comedy!  2018 had two shining examples of excellent romantic comedies and I couldn’t be happier to have them on my best of the year list.  Though it may teeter on the side of comedic drama, Love Simon is a sweet tale of a high schooler coming to terms with his sexuality and learning to be OK with it.  Crazy Rich Asians is the mega hit that heralded the return of the outright rom-com to cinemas that wasn’t afraid to be big and bold.  Often with these movies the main characters get overshadowed by showier supporting characters and it’s true that both of these offerings have memorable supporting players – but the difference is that the lead characters are written well enough that they remain as interesting as everyone else on screen.  More of these movies, please and thank you!

1. The Favourite – To be honest, I’m surprised this one found its way to the top of my list, but in looking at the movies I saw last year none struck the same clarion chord of expertise in quite the way that The Favourite did.  It’s absolutely not going to be everyone’s cup of English Breakfast tea but for those that are willing to tilt their head slightly to the side and see things askew, they’ll get a kick of this bawdy trip to Queen Anne’s court.  Everything about the production is sublime, from the costumes to the set dressings all the way up to the leading performances of a trio of excellent ladies.  I still think Rachel Weisz gave one of my favorite performances of the year in a very tricky role that could have gone into high camp.

Honorable Mentions: Mary Queen of Scots, Paddington 2, A Simple Favor, Roma, Overlord, Widows, Mary Poppins Returns, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Revenge

 

5. Book Club – a movie featuring talented actors Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, and Diane Keaton should be smart, finely tuned, and relevant.  Book Club is none of these things.  A lame-brained comedy that feels like it came out 20 years too late puts the four women in numerous embarrassing situations and asks them to recite godawful dialogue.  I took my mom to see this on Mother’s Day and felt like I had to ask for a do over the next weekend.

4. The Happytime Murders – I’ll admit it: I laughed at this movie…because there are a few jokes so repulsively blunt that you can’t help but stammer out a guffaw at what you just heard a blue felt puppet say to similarly pilling creation from the son of Jim Henson.  Having seen the foul-mouthed musical Avenue Q on Broadway, which gleefully advertises “Full Puppet Nudity” I get that there are jokes to be made as a commentary but the difference between that Tony winning show and this future Razzie winner, is that this movie has no creative bone in its body.  It’s just a series of sex jokes that are only funny because a puppet is saying them.

3. Breaking In – I’ve been a fan of Gabrielle Union for a while now and she deserves better than bargain-basement projects like Breaking In.  A basic cable style movie that somehow was picked up by a major studio and released to unsuspecting audiences paying full price, this was a brainless effort from all that touted a poster image of Union looking ready to kick butt but instead featured her as a character that made a series of totally idiotic moves.  Worst of all was Breaking In’s arrival in the midst of the #TimesUp movement because it features horrific treatment of women and one totally unnecessary death that I’m guessing will be enough for some viewers to turn it off when watching.

2. Holmes & Watson / Tag – I’m including Holmes & Watson and Tag together on this list because both feature stupid guys doing stupid things.  Holmes & Watson is yet another opportunity for Will Ferrell to cash a check for doing the same old schtick while Tag is an exhausting exercise in toxic masculinity run amok.  Chuck both of these in the trash bin and call it a day.

1. Welcome to Marwen – It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Welcome to Marwen and I’m still seething mad at how bad it was.  Director Robert Zemeckis wastes a great cast in his misguided exercise bringing the documentary Marwencol to life as a feature film.  What made sense in a documentary setting completely fails to translate to a narrative feature and audiences are left to white-knuckle it through very disconcerting scenes of exploitation of women and those suffering from mental health issues.  Universal Pictures should be ashamed of themselves for distributing this one.  Total garbage.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: Mortal Engines, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Christopher Robin, Fifty Shades Freed, Night School, Pacific Rim: Uprising, First Man, Red Sparrow, Tomb Raider (2018)

Most Misunderstood: Suspiria – Oh boy this was a divisive movie!  Fans of Dario Argento’s classic original were aghast at what director Luca Guadagnino did to the relatively simple outline of the original.  I, for one, was happy to see that Guadagnino dug a little deeper than Argento did and brought out even darker elements to an already pitch black tale of witchcraft running rampant at a Germany dance academy.  This was a long movie with several horrifying sequences but I found it a thrilling and exciting undertaking.  More risks like this need to be taken, even if they don’t fully succeed or, in this case, make any money.
Honorable Mention: The Meg

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2018 (movies that turned out differently than I expected going in): Game Night – I fully expected Game Night to be another one of Jason Bateman’s smug comedies with him rolling his eyes and having some snarky comment at every turn.  Actually, there’s a lot of that going on here but it works to Bateman’s advantage because it fits in perfectly with the tone of the film.  Buoyed by a strong supporting cast, including Rachel McAdams in a delightful turn and Jesse Plemons as a deadpan dud, and some genuine twists that keep the film from getting too far ahead of its audience, this was a more than pleasant surprise.  Several points off for spoiling one of the best jokes in the trailer, though.  Tsk Tsk.
Honorable Mention: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should

A Star is Born (1937)
A Star is Born (1954)
Alpha 
Apostle
BlacKkKlansman 
Can You Ever Forgive Me? 
Eighth Grade
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool 
Ghost Stories
Grand Canyon
Lean on Pete
Pick of the Litter
Rocky
Rocky II
Rocky Balboa
Searching 
Strong Island
The Harvey Girls

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2018
Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 128
Total Movies Seen at Home: 184
Grand Total for 2018 (not counting films seen multiple times): 309
Where I Saw the Most Movies – AMC Southdale (35!)

Movie Review ~ If Beale Street Could Talk


The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman in Harlem desperately scrambles to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime while carrying their first child.

Stars: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Diego Luna, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Finn Wittrock, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis

Director: Barry Jenkins

Rated: R

Running Length: 119 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  In 2016, writer/director Barry Jenkins won an Oscar for his adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story Moonlight, telling a unique story about a heretofore underrepresented population of the black community onscreen.  It was a bold, beautiful movie that challenged viewers and our own prejudices not only to skin color but to our perceptions of love and acceptance.  While Jenkins missed out on winning Best Director, Moonlight famously went on to win Best Picture is an Oscar snafu that first saw La La Land announced as the victor only to have Academy officials quickly rush the stage to say presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read the wrong winner and the small indie Moonlight actually took the prize.

Two years later, we were all waiting with baited breath wondering would the next Jenkins film, If Beale Street Could Talk, capitalize on his momentum and solidify that Moonlight wasn’t just a flash in the pan moment of greatness.  Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, Jenkins has again adapted a work of great beauty that juggles multiple timelines and emotions and creates an utterly transporting experience.  While it couldn’t be more different from Moonlight in subject matter, it captures a similar spirit and builds on that earlier work, bringing audiences deep into the lives of two young lovers and their families dealing with a terrible situation.

Tish (KiKi Layne, Captive State) and Fonny (Stephan James, Selma) have grown up together in Harlem, their childhood friendship blossoming into teenage affection and then into adult love.  When the film opens, Fonny is in prison awaiting trial for a raping a woman and Tish has to tell him that she’s going to have his baby.  Through flashbacks intercut with present day scenes of Tish and her family seeking assistance in clearing Fonny’s name, we see how these two young people got to this place and time and mourn the likely loss of the shared life they’ll never get to begin.  Is the woman accusing Fonny doing so because he’s black?  Or was she instructed to pick him out of a line-up by a cop (Ed Skrein, Deadpool) that had a previous run-in with him?  What about the darkest question of all?  Could Fonny have actually done it?

Even though this is only the second film I’ve seen from Jenkins, I can already see a calling card style to his work. Like director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Jenkins favors having his actors staring directly into the camera, which functions as a way of drawing audiences into the action and makes you feel like they are delivering their lines directly to you.  You suddenly become the character being addressed and the effect is unsettling, yet thrilling all the same.  Much of If Beale Street Could Talk are just conversations between ordinary people and the film isn’t afraid to keep things quiet and reflective, like in a scene with Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) recounting to his old friend Fonny what a black man’s psyche feels like after being in prison.

At the center of the film are the two impressive performances of Layne and James, navigating countless emotions throughout from the nervous excitement of a first coupling to elation in the face of fear at the news of their upcoming child to the desperation and eventual resolute acceptance of a broken legal system.  The work here, especially Layne as the film progresses, is outstanding.  The young actors are strongly supported by Regina King (Jerry Maguire) as Tish’s mother who is mighty and moving in several key scenes without ever resorting to the kind of showboating acting the role could have leaned toward.  For me, it’s not quite the Oscar-winning performance people are claiming it is but King is always such a solid presence I get why she’s at the top of the conversations this year.  I also enjoyed Teyonah Parris (Chi-Raq) as Tish’s no-nonsense sister, and Michael Beach (Aquaman) and Aunjanue Ellis (Get on Up) as Fonny’s parents who come calling for but one scene early on in the film and leave a sizable impression in their wake.  Familiar faces Diego Luna (Contraband), Dave Franco (The Disaster Artist), and Finn Wittrock (Unbroken) show up in smaller supporting roles that thankfully don’t get in the way of our leads.

Nicholas Britell’s (The Big Short) brass heavy score is fantastic as is James Laxton’s (Tusk) golden-hued and period specific cinematography, all playing their role in picking you up and placing you exactly where Jenkins wants you to be.  Jenkins has a way with casting even the smallest of roles pitch-perfectly, with no one betraying this is a movie set in 1974 made in 2018.  While Moonlight was more of a film that led to further discussion, If Beale Street Could Talk doesn’t quite have that same “Let’s talk about it” feel to it when the picture ends.  That’s not to say it isn’t highly effective or incredibly moving – it’s a movie made with emotion that you can’t help but be swept away with and that’s largely due to the performances and the way Jenkins brings many elements together to create a true movie-going experience.  One of the best of the year.