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 ~ Welcome to Marwen

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A victim of a brutal attack finds a unique and beautiful therapeutic outlet to help him through his recovery process.

Stars: Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Janelle Monáe, Eiza Gonzalez, Diane Kruger, Gwendoline Christie, Merritt Weaver

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 116 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: We’re often asked to provide our instant reactions to movies on our way out of advanced screenings.  This can be a good way to get some off the cuff remarks or quick takes to bring back to the studios as to what audiences felt the moment the lights come up and the credits start to roll.  I struggle in these moments to come up with two to three sentences that summarize two hours of thoughts, preferring to let the feeling marinate for a while until I can let it flow out here.  My overall opinion of the film rarely changes, it just solidifies as my mind works on detailing why I feel the way I feel.

With Welcome to Marwen, I knew leaving the theater it was one of the most troubling movies I’d seen all year but the way the movie nagged and gnawed at me in the days since I saw it was truly something to behold.  Hailing from a major studio with a well-liked star and Oscar-winning director, it’s a drastically misguided misfire that has no clue who it’s audience is or how to balance its technically impressive effects with a dramatically inert narrative.

Based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, director Robert Zemeckis (Flight) and co-screenwriter Caroline Thompson (The Secret Garden) turn the doc into a narrative feature starring Steve Carrell (Beautiful Boy) as Matt Hoagancamp, an artist recovering from a brutal beating that has found a most unique coping outlet.  Creating a WWII-set world of his own in his backyard, he photographs dolls inhabiting his town of Marwen in various adventures featuring Cap’n Hogie, a stand in for Matt himself.  While Cap’n Hogie is the bomber jacket wearing tough guy in the group, he often needs to be saved by an assembly of leggy female figures that are modeled after various women in Matt’s own life.

This is where the movie starts to provide some extremely problematic issues it can just never recover from.  The real-life women in Matt’s world are his Russian caretaker (Gwendoline Christie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), a war veteran we briefly see in flashbacks (Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures), a friendly worker at his local hobby shop (Merritt Weaver, Signs, by far the best performance in the film), his co-worker at a local diner (Eiza Gonzalez, Jem and the Holograms), and most disconcerting of all, a sexy French maid inspired by a nameless woman Matt sees in an adult film (played by Leslie Zemeckis, the directors real-life wife…yuck).  In reality, the women are portrayed as normal human beings but in Matt’s fantasy world their sexuality is heightened, their cleavage is on display, their skits are hiked up to crotch level, and they exist only to serve and protect Cap’n Hoagie’s wishes.  Basically, they are sex figurines.  Which would be fine if the movie ever acknowledged that this is odd and oddly disrespectful…which it never does.

When Nicol (‘I spell it with no “E” ’) moves in across the street, Matt becomes infatuated by the woman who seems to understand his quirks, especially as it relates to his penchant for wearing women’s high heels.  That Matt has a shoe fetish is but one of several of his eccentricities the film introduces only to never fully explore to any kind of satisfactory degree.  Though not gay, Matt finds that while wearing a woman’s shoe he can more easily get at the ‘essence’ of women (or, “dames” as he calls them) and, bless her heart, Nicol barely bats at eye when he delivers this corker of a revelation.  As played by Leslie Mann (This is 40) Nicol has a restrained charm that suggests she’s put up walls to guard her own emotional sensitivities.

Aside from it’s odious devaluation of nearly every female character that walks across the screen (Christie and Monáe are barely in the film in human form), the movie also has a rather large blind spot when it comes to talking about PTSD and the lasting effects of mental illness.  Clearly, Matt is suffering from major mental health problems brought on by his vicious attack and Zemeckis and Thompson don’t seem the slightest bit interested in presenting Matt with any kind of support outside of his made-up world of Marwen.  His interactions with people outside of Marwen are either comedic fodder or humiliating emotionally – it’s no wonder he’d rather spend time all alone with his dolls.  The one solution presented is in the form of a blue pill medication that no so subtly takes the form of another “doll” named Deja (Diane Kruger) who doesn’t seem to have a real-world counterpart but obviously has a huge hold over Matt’s psyche.

I have absolutely no idea who the audience would be for this movie.  It’s not a family film, it’s not a film an older adult audience will find much value in, and it’s certainly not a movie for the mid-range crowd who have a plethora of better choices this holiday season.  It literally has no target audience and I am mystified at whoever would have thought this would have made for a good feature film.  Carrell seems uncomfortable, and not just in the heels but as this is a Zemeckis film, it’s technical merits are first-rate.  Zemeckis is like a dog with a bone where motion-capture animation is concerned but here the technology works well in making Carrell, Mann, Monáe, and company all realistically doll-like when they are in Marwen.  It’s a good-looking movie, even if it’s rather ugly on in the inside.