Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Every year it’s difficult to see everything in theaters, and 2018 was no exception. I tried to see as much as I could this year, but there were a few films I missed initially and caught up with later. Here are some brief mini-reviews on some 2018 films I didn’t get the chance to do full reviews for.

 

Game Night

gamenightGame Night is one of the best studio comedies of the past decade; instead of relying on unfunny improv or gross out gags, Mark Perez’s script is incredibly tight and consistently clever in its mystery antics. There’s a level of craftsmanship here that’s simply not seen in other comedies, as the film’s set pieces and environments are smartly made to resemble a board game, and despite its comic timing, there are some genuinely impressive sequences, including an iconic tracking shot at the film’s climax. There’s an intelligent story of rivalry between brothers Jason Bateman and Kyle Chandler that avoids getting too sappy, and Jesse Plemons’s tour de force performance as a peculiar cop is Oscar worthy. Grade: A-

 

Paddington 2

paddington2

One of the greatest family films ever made, Paddington 2 is a tribute to the spirit of a character who’s kindness and good heart are not affected by his colder reality. The direction is surprisingly meticulous, drawing humor from its deliberate, yet not relentless pace, and our lead character’s ability to draw out the best in every situation and character he encounters. It’s a thoroughly delightful experience that’s uncynical, yet willing to confront some more serious themes. Grade: A

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyguernsey-c2a9-studiocanal-s-aA charming period romance, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is fairly straightforward in its storytelling, and features an interesting true life story and some luscious visuals. The period production design and flashbacks are well done, and the chemistry between Lily James and Michiel Huisman gives the film an added sense of charm and whimsy. Grade: B+

 

First Reformed

firstreformedFirst Reformed is the best depiction of contextualizing religion in the wake of modern crisis ever depicted on film. Writer and director Paul Schrader crafts a deeply layered study of the effects of man’s transgression on faith and asks deeply thought provoking questions regarding the responsibilities of religious people in the wake of epidemics that would seemingly impact their beliefs. The film is starkly shot with wonderful long takes that allow us to focus on the performances, although Schrader also gives us beautiful outbursts of color to create a portrait-like sensibility. Ethan Hawke gives the performance of his career as a priest overtaken by darkness and blind to joy, and joins the ranks of the finest actors today with his deeply motivated role. A masterpiece for the ages. Grade: A+

 

Disobedience

disobedience-tiff1Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz give deeply moving, affectionate performances as women of faith who reunite after a childhood relationship divided them. The performances are stellar and the script crafts complex characters that deal with a wide range of cultural and personal conflicts, but the film is also slow to the point of being laborious. There’s a deeply moving tale here, but it’s also somewhat of a drag to get through. Grade: B

 

Crazy Rich Asians

crazyrichCrazy Rich Asians broke records and earned fame for being the first all Asian studio film in nearly twenty years, and the reputation is earned; the film is an earnest discussion about culture, heritage, and family, and gets perspectives from all types of the Asian and Asian-American experience. Outside of that it’s a fairly formulaic rom-com, albeit a very charming one with some very charismatic performances from Constance Wu and Henry Golding. The film allows us to indulge in the rich lifestyle while still being realistic in presenting its troubles, and doesn’t feel obliged to wrap anything up too neatly either. Grade: B+

 

Leave No Trace

Leave-No-Trace-movie-poster.jpgLeave No Trace is a quiet, immensely powerful drama that excels in telling a gradual story of a father and daughter living off the land and remaining fiercely independent. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie give great performances and don’t feel the need to go too “big”; there’s no huge blowout or screaming, and the pair works best in the moments of silence that tell more than exposition ever could. The film doesn’t give us too many details about their past and only hints at their future, but by the end we feel that we have walked in their shoes. Grade: A-

 

The Death of Stalin

deathofstalinArmando Iannuncci, the brilliant mind behind In the Loop, brings another hilarious political satire, following the aftermath of Stalin’s death in Communist Russia. The film crackles with terrific dialogue from a brilliant cast that includes everyone from Steve Buscemi to Jeffrey Tambor. The dialogue is fast and witty, and while the political backstabbing and goofy shenanigans are endlessly entertaining, the film reminds us of the horrors that this system inflicted and brings us back into the cycle of corruption and lies. Grade: A

 

Sorry to Bother You

sorryto

Without a doubt the most original and bonkers movie I saw this year, Sorry to Bother You is certainly a bold statement by filmmaker Boots Riley. While much of the satire is fairly broad and obvious, the film gains points for the sheer insanity of it all and it’s humorous banter, stunning visuals, and terrific lead performance by Lakeith Stanfield. Some of its metaphors are hardly original, but it’s stylized in a way unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Grade: B-

 

Private Life

privatelife

A thoroughly melancholy, complex film about a couple trying to start a family as they reach middle age, Private Life has some of the year’s best performances from Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn. The film is a raw, uncompromising look at the struggles of getting older and feeling unfulfilled, and is perhaps one of the most sobering and honest depictions of mid-life crisis on film. It’s a slow burn that doesn’t attempt to reward you too much, and ends on the perfect ambiguous note that fulfills the film’s thematic core. Grade: B+

 

Chappaquiddick

chappaquiddick-tiff-3A terrific historical drama, Chappaquiddick takes a look at the complicated legacy of Ted Kennedy following his 1969 scandal and thoroughly examines how the pressures of living up to his family name and his own ambitions affected the surrounding media circus. Jason Clarke gives the best performance of his career and explores both the sympathetic and ugly Kennedy. In fact, the film’s entire ensemble is great, particularly the nuanced dramatic roles from normally comedic actors Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan. Grade: B+

 

Outlaw King

outlawA fantastic historical epic, Outlaw King moves at a relentless pace yet gives us a great sense of scope and range, with impressive tracking shots and terrific set pieces. Chris Pine is captivating at the titular Robert the Bruce, and the film gives us a real sense of humanity as it explores his rebellion against the English Crown. Grade: A

 

Eighth Grade

eighthgradeWhile unfortunately relying heavily on clichés commonly found in the coming of age genre, Eighth Grade does feature some terrific performances from Elsie Fischer and Josh Hamilton. There’s some dull moments, but the thematic center about finding oneself is inspired and I’m curious to see what writer/director Bo Burnham does next. Grade: B-

 

Tully

tullyAnother splendid collaboration between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, Tully is a realistic portrayal of parenthood that takes its premise in very interesting, insightful, and inspiring directions. The screenplay is near perfection, with dialogue that is both witty and mundane, and is able to continuously provide payoffs. Charlize Theron and Ron Livingston both do the best work of their respective impressive careers, making for a beautiful and engaging story. Grade: A

 

Blindspotting

BlindspottingA powerful, energetic force of nature, Blindspotting shows the complex modern issues in Oakland through the eyes of two lifelong friends, played by real life best friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. Diggs and Casal form an instantly iconic duo, and they explore the complex divide between the two as Casal’s character becomes more violent. It’s a very insightful look at Oakland, but it’s also hilarious, and creatively integrates music to tell its story. Grade: A

 

The Rider

therider

Perhaps the most gorgeously shot film of the year, The Rider is a deeply introspective and emotionally resonant film that takes us into America’s heartland and the world of rodeo riders. The film explores our lead character, played wonderfully by newcomer Barry Jandreau, as he wrestles with his lifestyle and own mortality, and the film is able to surpass stereotypes with its sharp writing and realistic characters. Grade: A