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 ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Stars: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Cameron Britton, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang, Christopher Convery, Synnøve Macody Lund, Vicky Krieps

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: When 2011’s U.S. remake of the 2009 Swedish phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to bring in the kind of audience Columbia Pictures and MGM was hoping for, the two planned sequels were put on an indefinite hold.  What a pity.  Though the remake had its share of detractors, it was a compelling mystery and expertly made film that took its time to explore the characters and wasn’t afraid to wallow in some dark material.  Director David Fincher is a master at what he does and the look and feel of the movie, not to mention the fantastic performances from Rooney Mara (who received an Oscar nom for her work) and Daniel Craig, has helped to keep the film a singular experience.

Deciding to skip the two direct sequels and start over with a new novel released in 2015 brought a challenge. With Fincher, Craig, and Mara all released from their contracts and on to different projects, when the time came to bring the franchise back to life for The Girl in the Spider’s Web the studio had to go back to the drawing board and find a new director and star.  Bringing on rising director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) and hiring Claire Foy (Breathe) as the titular character were impressive gambles that don’t completely pay off.  The resulting film works fine as a standard thriller if you didn’t have any previous knowledge of the characters but as a continuation of what Fincher started back in 2011 (and what really began with the original film trilogy in 2009) it misses the mark by a longshot.

It’s been three years since the events of The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander has become a not-so-secret vigilante of sorts in Stockholm, coming to the aid of women wronged by men.  The opening of the film (spoiled, like much of the movie, by trailers that have given away far too many key plot points) finds Salander giving a wife beater a bit of sweet vengeance.  Foy plays the exchange like she’s buying carpet for her rec room at IKEA, it’s fine to be emotionally removed from these abusers but her monotone delivery suggests boredom rather than detachment.

Salander’s ally Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) hasn’t seen her since her wrote an exposé centered on her family.  Though his editor and sometime lover Erika (a sadly underused Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) urges him to move on, he can’t forget the troubled girl. Much like Fincher’s film, Alvarez keeps Lisbeth and Mikael apart for a good half of the film but unlike the previous entry when they do share screen time there’s next to no spark between the two.  That’s partly because the dynamic in this movie feels like it’s shifted and Mikael is now more of a second banana to Lisbeth’s main character.

When Lisbeth is asked to retrieve a computer program that becomes a threat to the national security of America and Sweden, she’s thrown into a conspiracy that will bring her back to painful memories (and people) of her childhood.  If you’ve read the book The Girl in the Spider’s Web is based off of, be prepared for major changes.  For fun, after the screening I read the plot synopsis of the novel and was amazed at the liberties screenwriters Alvarez, Jay Basu, and Steven Knight took with David Lagercrantz’s original text, rendering it almost wholly new.  For what it’s worth, the novel sounded far more muddled and complicated, something that wouldn’t have translated easily to the screen.

That leaves Alvarez to cut his own course with the material, leaving out the connective tissue that helped make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo such an intriguing mystery.  There’s no real thought process from anyone in the movie, they either just “know” the answer to a perplexing puzzle or whatever methods they use to figure things out happen offscreen.  One example is a character in the U.S. who is trying to locate a hacker by tracing their location.  The location is narrowed down to Stockholm, at which time the character grabs his coat and runs directly to the airport…because Stockholm is so specific. Part of what makes these kind of films fun is playing detective alongside our lead characters but here we are so far removed that it’s like someone is reading us a story instead of inviting us to follow along.

The screenwriters also make a giant leap in turning Lisbeth into more of a superhero than a heroine.  She takes a licking and keeps on ticking, bouncing back from explosions and beatings needing little to no recovery time.  One moment Lisbeth has been drugged and the next she’s snorted some crushed opioids and is driving a car in pursuit of cybercriminals.  She also has a curious knack for knowing the right way out of dead end.

I’ve enjoyed Foy in her films so far in 2018.  She was great in the paranoid thriller Unsane and good in October’s First Man.  Here she’s merely OK and it’s mostly due to her being miscast as an edgy character lacking bite.  Mara and her Swedish counterpart Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth as damaged goods, alternately withdrawn and feral which led to her being unpredictable.  Foy isn’t afforded much in the way of surprise so we’re just tagging along for what is largely an unremarkable ride for the actress.

As a jumpy NSA agent on Salander’s trail, Lakeith Stanfield is even more of an enigma.  There’s no backstory to his character by way of an introduction nor do we get any blanks filled in along the way.  We get a sense he’s good at his job but how spectacular can he be if he’s constantly bested by Salander and the thugs on her trail?  By the time he’s somehow called on to be an expert marksman in an admittedly nicely constructed action scene, I sort of stopped asking questions.

The best performance in the whole film is Sylvia Hoeks as a ice blonde specter from Lisbeth’s past.  Dressed head to toe in red and never speaking above a child-like purr, she’s intimidating without even raising a finger.  It does veer toward campy Bond villainess at times (the whole film feels like a gender-bending Bond romp, actually) but Hoeks knows exactly what film she’s in and sinks her teeth into every bit of scenery she can get her hands on.  Much like she did with her unsettling character in Blade Runner 2049, she becomes the focal point of any scene she’s in.

Alvarez shows off some style in his eye for imaginative camera angles with the help of cinematographer Pedro Luque (Don’t Breathe) and slightly macabre visuals but he is far more restrained than he was in previous films.  Aside from one rather ghastly sight of a man missing a key piece of his face it’s relatively tame.  I appreciated that he included a brief title sequence, nicely echoing the unforgettable pulse-pounding nightmare credit sequence of the first film.  The music by Roque Baños (In the Heart of the Sea) helps to set the mood, even if that mood too often requires Baños to veer into action movie histrionics.

I’m not sure what the impetus was for the studios to revive this franchise again in 2018 (were they about to lose the rights?) but they’ve given us another chapter in the Dragon Tattoo collection that doesn’t even feel like it’s in the same universe as what’s come before.  The characters deserve better, the actors deserve better, we deserve better.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Thoughts: Though 2011’s American remake of the Swedish sensation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was well received by critics (earning an Oscar nomination for star Rooney Mara in the process), it didn’t do the kind of box office numbers that inspired Sony Pictures to keep the franchise going.  When a continuation of the original trilogy of novels was released, the interest in resurrecting the computer hacker heroine grew which is why we’re now getting an all-new take on Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.  With Claire Foy (Breathe) taking over for Mara and Fede Alvaraz (Don’t Breathe) assuming directing duties from David Fincher, this first look suggests the same dark vibe as the previous entry.  Foy looks to have morphed nicely into the rough and tumble Salander and I’m excited for Blade Runner 2049 breakout Sylvia Hoeks to be featured briefly in this teaser.