My 2018 in Film
the year i lost moviepass, gained amc a-list, wished aunt lucy a happy birthday, and finally tracked everything i watched!
For a few years now, one of my New Year’s Resolutions has been to track every film I watch with the help of Letterboxd. I usually start the year off strong, but by March or April, I tend to forget about it until it’s too late and I’m hopelessly behind. But, this year, I did it! Every time I watched a movie, whether theatrically, on Netflix, on regular TV, etc, I logged it, gave it an off-the-cuff rating, and clicked whether or not I “liked” it. Thanks to a Black Friday sale on Letterboxd Pro accounts, I now have stats for what my year looked like in film. (Hi, Patrick Stewart! Guess we spent a lot of time together this year!)
I tend to hate making Best-of Lists. I didn’t see everything released this year, so how can I know what the best movie was? Plus, so many movies have completely different aims… it feels weird to rank something like Thunder Road or Wildlife against Avengers: Infinity War or Overlord. So, instead, as my year-end wrap-up, I’m going to do a couple smaller, more fun, lists that tell the story of my 2018 in film. (And yes, I did rank my favorite movies of the year, at the end).
Most Enjoyably-Strange Accent/Vocal Choices of 2018
- Natalie Portman — Vox Lux — Even though Natalie Portman plays an older version of Raffey Cassidy’s character Celeste, who sounds like she’s mimicking Portman’s Jackie accent, Portman decides on a completely different voice for her part of the movie, a voice that leaves her sounding like an extra in a pizza shop from a Sopranos scene set in New Jersey. Since I saw this movie, not a day has gone by where I haven’t savored her delivery of “Just get’a the pasta!” Her accent is gonzo, out of left field, completely inexplicable, and it totally works.
- Michelle Williams — I Feel Pretty — This movie was critically savaged, but honestly, it’s fine. A major saving grace is Michelle Williams’ fashionista character’s totally bizarre Valley-Girl airhead voice, several octaves above where the actress normally talks. She is a joy to listen to, drawing a reliable laugh every time she opens her mouth, and the movie is worth seeing just for her.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda — Mary Poppins Returns
- Jennifer Lawrence — Red Sparrow
- Tom Hardy — Venom
Best Movie Where Henry Golding and His Fiancée Have A Crucial Conversation Involving His Mother’s Heirloom Ring Aboard An Airplane
Crazy Rich Asians / A Simple Favor (tie)
Henry Golding was one of the year’s breakout stars, and he had two movies playing in theaters at the same time where he and his fiancée have an important conversation on an airplane that centers around a ring he inherited from his mother. They’re both excellent movies in different ways; Crazy Rich Asians was as good as I’d hoped, easily carrying the weight of all the cultural expectations associated with being the first American movie since The Joy Luck Club to feature a majority-Asian cast, whereas A Simple Favor was something I knew nothing about but blew me away with its stylish twists and turns in tone and plot. Golding is great in both; he’s charismatic, sexy, and funny, and it’s easy to see why he was a successful TV presenter before making the jump to Hollywood. I’m excited to see what he does next.
Best Netflix Movie Where Alexander Skarsgård Plays A Major Role But Barely Talks
- Mute — dir. Duncan Jones
For some reason, critics and audiences alike did not enjoy Duncan Jones’ quasi-sequel to Moon, the long-anticipated Mute. Sure, they’re very different movies — whereas Moon was a minimalist, nearly one-man exercise in psychological sci-fi drama, Mute is a maximalist excuse to create a fully-realized, candy-colored futuristic neo-neo-noir, like if Blade Runner didn’t feel the need to be so dark and gloomy all the time. It’s like if Raymond Chandler wrote a space opera (set on Earth). As the villains, Justin Theroux and Paul Rudd are weirdo delights, and the movie’s worth watching just for them, but Alexander Skarsgård truly shines in the titular role, as a man unable to speak searching for his missing girlfriend amid the neon-drenched Berlin underworld. I’ve always thought Skarsgård was a good actor, but here he reveals himself to be great. He can’t rely on his vocal delivery, and instead proves himself a man in command of every single facet of his body, every twitch in his face and every time his character explodes from stillness into motion conveying things his character can’t put into words. It’s a powerhouse performance that carries the movie, which isn’t nearly as bad as everyone said.
2. Hold the Dark — dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Another Netflix movie that deserved a wider audience this year, also starring Alexander Skarsgård, was Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, his follow-up to the critically-adored Green Room. Unlike that movie, which was loud and brash and violent, Hold the Dark is more restrained, more existential, more nihilistic. Skarsgård talks here, but not much. He conveys an eerie, animalistic drive for violence in the name of revenge, turning his body into a lithe embodiment of a primal masculinity devoted to the protection of family above all other notions of morality. He doesn’t need to talk; he says plenty in the narrowing of his eyes or the way he holds his body as he stalks through the sand-streaked cities of Afghanistan and the snowy, icy landscapes of Alaska. He’s excellent.
Best Movies Full of Joyful Spectacle That I Refuse To Feel Cynical About
- Mortal Engines—dir. Christian Rivers —
The biggest box-office bomb of the year is also one of the most fun times I had in the theater in 2018. Cities on Wheels! A story about the evils of Western imperialism that believes with its whole heart that a band of minorities and allies can topple their systems of oppression!
As I said in my review after seeing this, unlike most blockbuster films from this year, I didn’t once fret about the fact that I should maybe recognize the name of a place from fourteen movies ago, or if a character entering a room unexpectedly was a shocking reappearance of someone from a crossover franchise in a different medium that everyone around me understood but I was missing out on. (I’m looking at you, Solo.) Instead of being written by a committee, I felt like this was a fantasy epic written by an excited kid who kept saying, Yes! and then there’s a city in the sky made of hot air balloons! And… a prison-city floating on the ocean! And… and… a Terminator! And cannibals! And lots of other things I don’t want to spoil, because the constant sense of wonder and discovery is what makes Mortal Engines so much damn fun!
2. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — dir. Ol Parker
This was a dreadful year, one where I savored every excuse for cinematic escapism I was given, and I’m not sure I felt joy any purer than the moment in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again where Amanda Seyfried looks through her binoculars as “Dancing Queen” begins to play and sees Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård Titanicking on the front of the boat. Ok, ok, maybe the Cher version of “Fernando” at the end of the movie gave me more joy? Either way, I let myself get swept away by Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and I don’t even care.
3. Rampage — dir. Brad Peyton
If I were still 10 years old, Rampage would have been my favorite movie of the year. It’s a silly, funny, big, and ridiculous movie about a giant gorilla, a giant crocodile, and a giant wolf destroying a city, with the Rock along for the ride. It made me wish I still bought and played with action figures, because the action figures from this movie would have been awesome.
Best Soundtracks of the Year
This was a great year for musicals and I refuse to give La La Land any credit!!
- A Star Is Born — Lady Gaga. Need I say more?
- highlights: “Shallow,” “Hair Body Face,” “Always Remember Us This Way”
2. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — Cher. Need I say more?
- highlights: “Fernando,” “Andate, Andate,” “Waterloo”
3. Been So Long — A delightful, colorful Netflix musical that should be mentioned alongside Set It Up and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before in conversations about Netflix knocking the romance genre out of the park this year
- highlights: “Love Is,” “What U Sayin,” “Universe of Love”
4. Vox Lux — A completely bizarre film that features original songs by Sia, with her vocals Frankensteined in with Natalie Portman’s to create an extremely strange soundtrack
- highlights: “Wrapped Up (Natalie Portman version),” “Wrapped Up (Raffey Cassidy version), “Sweat and Tears,” “EKG”
5. Mary Poppins Returns — Ben Whishaw singing! Need I say more?
- highlights: “A Conversation,” “A Cover is Not a Book,” “Nowhere To Go But Up”
Best Performances That Should Be Getting Awards Attention But Aren’t
Male: Jim Cummings — Thunder Road
Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road is a marvel. He wrote, directed, and stars in a film about love, loss, fatherhood, addiction, and much more. The movie starts with a 10+ minute single-take eulogy, as Jim veers wildly from subject to subject as he tries to adequately explain to his captive audience what his mother meant to him. The eulogy culminates in a frantic tap dance number without music, which Jim had apparently choreographed to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” but was then unable to get the boombox to work, so he decides to go for it anyway. It’s cringe-inducing and devastating and funny all at once.
Cummings’ performance is brilliant. The whole movie basically functions as a demo reel, which I hope will get him bigger and bigger roles; he barely stops speaking the entire movie, alternately weeping with grief, shouting, laughing, cursing, fighting, sobbing, passing out, waking up, and just stopping to let us watch as his eyes fill with tears and his mouth falls open in a silent scream of something undefinable.
At the end, as the camera lingers on Cummings going through every emotion imaginable, we can almost hear every single thought passing through his head because of how expertly he conveys it all on his face. It’s sublime.
Female: Mary Elizabeth Winstead — All About Nina
All About Nina is a film about what we want from female comics in the age of #MeToo, and more importantly, what they want for themselves. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the titular Nina, a funny, filthy, raunchy, wounded stand-up comic who’s making a name for herself as a comedian who talks about sex and men and fucking and fucking up in ways we only usually let male comedians do. When she has a chance to audition for Comedy Prime, this universe’s version of SNL, she moves to LA, starts seeing a new guy who’s just perfect for her, and sees her career rise exponentially fast. She’s clearly using comedy as a weapon against the world, using punchlines as punches, and it’s not until the last act that we learn why… and Mary Elizabeth Winstead absolutely destroys the role.
She sells the emotional impact of the character’s arc, but she’s also just downright hysterical when she’s doing the funny bits. Nina is asked to prepare some characters, so we see Mary Elizabeth Winstead run through a number of impressions while she workshops her set — Sia, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Vedder, the guy from Creed, Cher, Shakira, Bjork, Werner Herzog — and in her hands, they’re all hilarious.
The Best Movie of 2018
Paddington 2, directed by Paul King
What is there to say about Paddington 2, easily the best movie of the year, that hasn’t already been said? It’s an absolute delight from start to finish, a whimsical story of a bear from Darkest Peru who’s sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and of the family who loves him and wants to prove his innocence. It features a brilliant performance from Hugh Grant as the villain, an out-of-work actor who dresses in disguises every time he commits an act of ludicrous larceny; Grant commits to each and every persona with incredible zeal, and he’s an utter joy to watch. It has moments as tense as the scene at the end of Toy Story 3 where the toys hold hands and accept their fate as they face the incinerator; it’s the better of the two movies that came out around the same time where Sally Hawkins spends time underwater with a creature she loves deeply. And it has an ending so full of hope and wonder that both times I saw it, I cried the kind of tears I never cry at movies. Usually my eyes just get misty. Paddington 2 had rivers running down my cheeks.
And, it’s a timely reminder that, if you’re kind and polite, the world will be right. In a year as awful as 2018, it’s hard to believe that’s true anymore. But Aunt Lucy believes, and Paddington believes, and Paddington 2 believes. It’s nice to let go of everything else and just believe, too.
The Top 10 Lists I Said I Wasn’t Gonna Make
And now… my Top 10 Favorites lists, of 2018 releases and of movies I watched that were released prior to 2000.
Top 10 Favorites of 2018:
Top 10 Favorite First-Watches of Older Movies:
Bring it on, 2019!