Kent's 2018 Least-Favorites
It used to be that at this time of year you could name a film and unabashedly defend it against any criticism. You love it. You can’t explain why you love it this much, but you do. You turn a blind eye to its flaws either because you had an unforgettable theater experience during the movie event of the summer, or you thought the film’s highly original script exempted it from clunky execution. Maybe you fell for the hype of an indie film. Maybe just one cathartic movie moment relieved reproach for the rest of the film.
Whatever the reason may be, there’s always one. In 2017 mine was “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.” In 2016 it was “Manchester by the Sea.” In 2014 it was “Whiplash.” There was nothing you could say to convince me these were anything less than brilliant. But this year, much like in 2015, there was no frontrunner. There were numerous movies teeming with originality and style that could get my attention but did not merit everlasting admiration. Due to art’s subjective nature, my summary of 2018 may not apply to you, just as my aforementioned favorites may not have been yours in their respective years.
A film with universal praise from last year that I did not connect with is “Roma.” Alfonso Cuaron’s heartfelt film is an undeniable masterpiece in filmmaking, from the gorgeous cinematography to the raw talent of the unknown actors to the scale of some of the set pieces. However, the script is heavy-handed, and there is a major side plot that is not as engaging as the main one. I love slow, arthouse films in black and white and in a foreign language as much as the next pretentious critic, but I found “Roma” dreary and uninteresting. Starting the film with a five-minute shot of a dirty puddle didn’t help.
I was surprised to see more blockbusters than usual in my list of favorites of the year. “Avengers: Infinity War” was an extremely entertaining summer hit. It has bland and general appeal, but the satisfying conclusion to this decade-long story arc pulled audiences out of their superhero fatigue and garnered anticipation for the sequel a year later.
“Mission Impossible: Fallout” was another movie that lived up to the definition of what a blockbuster is. The audience ignores a generic plot in exchange for a nonstop thread of action sequences that get progressively more exciting. Real shots of Tom Cruise skydiving? Check. Real rooftop chase sequence? Check. Tom Cruise hanging from and consequently flying a real helicopter? Check. Henry Cavill cocking his arms like they’re guns mid-fistfight? Check. There is no other series of films with sequels improving in quality over time. Director Christopher McQuarrie is the master of the smart blockbuster, penning films like “Edge of Tomorrow” and directing “Jack Reacher” and the last two “Mission: Impossible” films. He is expected to return as director for the final two films shot back-to-back, so I’m looking forward to more fantastic action set pieces.
My favorite films of the year, as usual, are on the independent side. Some of the greatest performances of the year come from Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite.” I’ve been singing his praises ever since I watched 2016’s “The Lobster” and 2017’s “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” He has become an auteur who will go down as one of the most unique filmmakers. His vision makes room for brilliant actors who explore sociopathic tendencies while maintaining the integrity of his thematic ideas. “The Favourite” is set in 19th century English, boasting beautiful style — the costuming and production design as well as cinematography are sure to get some attention come awards season.
“You Were Never Really Here” was an April release that didn’t really get much attention. Director Lynne Ramsey successfully juggled dark subject matter, gorgeous cinematography and a groundbreaking performance by Joaquin Phoenix. He plays a vigilante for the rich hunting down a child who was kidnapped by sex traffickers. Often intentionally unsatisfying, what the film holds back just pulls you further into Phoenix’s arc as he yearns for moral redemption.
Usually genre doesn’t matter when it comes to my favorite film of the year, but because my praise for film this year has been spread thin, I’ll break it up into three: documentary, drama and comedy. This year featured many acclaimed documentaries; the one to come out on top and melt everyone’s heart was Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” In such a tumultuous political climate, it was refreshing to revisit the life and work of such a wholesome man as Mr. Rogers.
My favorite drama of the year, “First Reformed,” came from the man who penned “Taxi Driver.” Writer-director Paul Schrader created an original story about a dying priest conflicted about humanity’s treatment of the planet. Ethan Hawke’s composed demeanor masked his inner turmoil, both ideological and medical, which made him a sympathetic protagonist. I find myself thinking about this film and its message constantly.
Finally, we’ve come to my favorite film of the year: the British comedy “The Death of Stalin.” Armando Iannucci has mastered political satire with dry wit and inexplicably excessive profanity that never disappoints. Every scene in the film is hilarious and quotable. However, the scene stealer is Jason Isaacs’ General Zhukov. His crass and bullish behavior emulates Zhukov’s real-life persona and executes every joke perfectly. Stalin’s children halt the film’s flow with uneven tonal shifts, but their screen time is minimal.
In conclusion, 2018 was somewhat of a disappointment. A lot of films I anticipated to be my favorites came up short. One of the only good things about “Vice” was Bale’s performance as Dick Cheney, with the same being said about “Bohemian Rhapsody” regarding Rami Malek. “Sorry to Bother You” was a complete mess that tried to fix all of society’s problems in ninety minutes. “A Star is Born” falls apart after a compelling first 30 minutes, and “Bad Times at the El Royale” drops the ball in the final act. There were few gems last year — here’s hoping there’s something to be overly passionate about this year.