David Vicari’s Best of 2018
Awards season is in full swing, so without further ado, here is my list of the best films of 2018. Before I count down my 10 best, let me throw out some honorable mentions.
Honorable Mentions: Bad Times at the El Royale; Fahrenheit 11/9; Juliet, Naked; Mary Poppins Returns; Mid90s; Mission: Impossible – Fallout; A Quiet Place; Ready Player One and Sorry to Bother You.
10. First Reformed– Ethan Hawke is phenomenal as a troubled priest in this haunting film by Paul Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver (1976). With its themes of redemption and martyrdom, this is pure Schrader. Read the review here.
9. Black Panther– This is the best superhero comic book film of 2018 thanks to a well-rounded main character (Chadwick Boseman), a compelling villain (Michael B. Jordan) and some eye-popping actions scenes. Read the review here.
8. First Man– Having a main character who is analytical and emotionally closed off may sound a little off-putting, but this biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong and his historic walk on the moon has a way of completely pulling you in. Director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) depicts spaceflight as claustrophobic and harrowing. Ryan Gosling, as Armstrong, is excellent, and Claire Foy is a force as Janet Armstrong, who refuses to sit by and play the dutiful wife. Read the review here.
7. Eighth Grade– The terrors of growing pains and the stress of junior high school are vividly realized in Bo Burnham's comedy-drama that is anchored by a winning central performance by Elsie Fisher. Read the review here.
6. Green Book– World-class African-American pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is going on a concert tour in the Deep South in 1962, so, he hires tough Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), as his driver and protection. Based on a real-life story, Peter Farrelly's Louisiana-shot comedy-drama road trip is a thoughtful embrace of race and friendship, and it often has very funny moments. Read the review here.
5. Bohemian Rhapsody– Yes, it takes liberties with the facts, but who cares? This biopic of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock group Queen, is energetic and upbeat, and actor Rami Malek truly embodies the spirit of Mercury in a flawless performance. Of course, the music is great, especially the recreation of the 1985 Live Aid concert in the film's finale. Read the review here.
4. Vice– The jumbled narrative structure of director Adam McKay's satirical biopic of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney – plus an astounding performance by an unrecognizable Christian Bale as Cheney – actually gives this movie a wonderfully surreal quality. Even though the movie trashes Cheney as a despicable, power-mad person, Bale manages to give him a just hint of humanity. Read the review here.
3. BlacKkKlansman– The true story of African-American detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in 1970s Colorado is one of director Spike Lee's best films, right up there with Do the Right Thing(1989) and Malcolm X(1992). BlacKkKlansmanworks as a tense thriller and buddy cop movie, and – unfortunately – its subject matter is still very relevant. Read the review here.
2. The Favourite– In 18th century England, a close friend (Rachel Weisz) and a newcomer (Emma Stone) both vie for the affections of the physically and emotionally frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). This wickedly funny battle for power from director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) boasts pitch-perfect performances by three fine actresses. Read the review here.
1. Won't You Be My Neighbor?– This documentary of Fred Rogers, the beloved creator and host of the educational children's television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, is pure joy. It's a wonderful examination of the man. While nobody is perfect, Rogers was wise enough to recognize his flaws and rectify them. And there is oodles of amazing behind the scenes footage of the show as well as funny little tidbits. Morgan Neville's film is warm and insightful, and, boy, do we need it now. Read the review here.
Fritz Esker’s Best of 2018
Honorable Mentions: Paddington 2; Isle of Dogs; A Quiet Place; American Animals; Don’t Worry, He Wont Get Far on Foot.
10. Game Night - Improvisation has long been a part of cinematic comedy, but too many modern comedies feel improvised and slapdash. Part of the reason John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s film is so refreshing is that it feels like Mark Perez’s script about a game night gone horribly wrong is thoroughly plotted and well thought out. It’s reminiscent of old-school farces. The ensemble cast, led by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, are all quite funny. Read the review here.
9. The Mule - At 88 years old, director/star Clint Eastwood still knows how to make a hell of a movie. He plays a 90-year-old horticulturist who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican cartel. It’s a movie that improves as it goes along, turning into the story of a man nearing the end of his life who finally accepting responsibility for the choices he made and the pain he caused. Read the review here.
8. The Front Runner - Director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) tackles Gary Hart’s fall from presidential front runner in 1988 to disgrace after newspapers uncovered proof of his extramarital affairs. Hugh Jackman and Vera Farmiga turn in strong performances. But the film’s greatest asset is its willingness to let viewers believe two things at once: that Hart was a selfish cad and that the media’s obsession with his sex life was creepy and voyeuristic. Read the review here.
7. Green Book- Filmed in New Orleans, this road movie is based on the true story of a friendship that blossomed between a gay African-American pianist (Mahershala Ali) and his Italian-American driver/bodyguard (Viggo Mortensen) on a tour through the Deep South in the 1960s. The film tackles important issues in a way mainstream audiences will still find highly entertaining. And if you want to get a message across, you need to first and foremost entertain people. Read the review here.
6. Eighth Grade - Writer/director Bo Burnham makes a lovely debut with this coming-of-age story about a shy girl (Elsie Fisher) graduating middle school. Fisher is a revelation here, and the film does a great job of capturing the awkwardness and the desperate need to belong that comes with early adolescence. Read the review here.
5. First Reformed - Writer/director Paul Schrader (Blue Collar, Hardcore) is back with a vengeance in this psychological drama that recalls the best of Ingmar Bergman. An alcoholic priest (Ethan Hawke) wrestles over questions of faith and how far should he go to fight injustice. Most Hollywood movies about faith either pander to church groups or dismiss belief entirely. This is a rare film that takes belief seriously without resorting to easy answers. Read the review here.
4. The Old Man and the Gun - Based on a true story, writer/director David Lowery’s charming and melancholy film casts Robert Redford (still firing on all cylinders) as a man whose first love in life is committing peaceful, non-violent bank robberies. There’s an easygoing humor throughout, but the film doesn’t hide from the pain Redford’s character causes, either. If this is Redford’s final acting role, it’s a terrific sendoff. Read the review here.
3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? - 2018’s most emotionally powerful film is Morgan Neville’s documentary about legendary PBS children’s show host Fred Rogers. There are no earth-rattling revelations about Rogers here, but what is here is a heartwarming, poignant look at the hard work that went into one man’s unrelenting kindness and his quest to spread that kindness. Read the review here.
2. The Favourite - Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz play rivals for the affection of Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne in this darkly comic film about people desperately jockeying for power. All of the characters in this film behave horribly at times, but The Favourite always makes viewers understand why they are behaving this way. All three lead actresses deserve Oscar nominations. Read the review here.
1. The Death of Stalin - Writer/director Armando Iannucci’s satire of the chaos in the Soviet Union after Stalin died is hilarious without ever sugarcoating the brutality and the terror Russians endured at that time. The ensemble cast, which includes Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, and Simon Russell Beale, is uniformly excellent. Read the review here.