Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Top 20 Movies of 2018

Unoriginal opening sentence wherein I express the belief that 2018 was a pretty good year for cinema, but not as great as 2017. Standard-issue follow-up statement relaying how this overwhelming number of good films made it difficult to narrow down my favorite titles into a manageable list of 20. Vaguely patronizing mention of the self-imposed "rule" that was applied during the creation of said list ("Must be titles that had a theatrical or VOD release in the U.S. during 2018"). Paragraph closes with a bit of whinging about how I've not yet seen A STAR IS BORN, THE FAVOURITE, SHOPLIFTERS, or SUSPIRIA and am thus unable to factor them into the list below.


what it's about:  A traumatized veteran tracks down missing girls for a living. When a job spins out of control, his nightmares overtake him as a conspiracy is uncovered leading to what may be his death trip or his awakening.

what it's "really" about:  Your trauma doesn't have to define you.

standout moment:  Joe takes out guards through the brothel, seen through security footage, scored by Rosie & The Originals' "Angel Baby."


what it's about:  A minister of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns, and a tormented past.

what it's "really" about:  Climate change is "complicated."

standout moment:  Floating couple.


what it's about:  Jong-su bumps into a girl who used to live in the same neighborhood as him, who asks him to look after her cat while on a trip to Africa. When back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met there, whom confesses to Jong-su his secret hobby.

what it's "really" about:  Class warfare.

standout moment:  Haemi's dance during sunset.


what it's about:  In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.

what it's "really" about:  The horrors of parenthood.

standout moment:  The mom tries to not make any noise while giving birth in a bathtub.


what it's about:  A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven at Christmas, forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash, and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones.

what it's "really" about:  Being a teenager is hard, even during the apocalypse.

standout moment:  It's cheating to say all the musical numbers, so I'll go with the encounter with a zombie snowman.


what it's about:  A small-time dealer dreams of another life but can't afford it. To escape, he must accept one last job involving Spain, drugs, the Illuminati, and his overbearing mother.

what it's "really" about:  It's never too late to stop being a mama's boy.

standout moment:  Toto's "Africa" sung by a group of Scottish drunks.


what it's about:  A progressive graduate student finds success and sparks outrage when his interest in battle rap as a thesis subject becomes a competitive obsession.

what it's "really" about:  No matter how noble your intentions are, don't be an asshole about it.

standout moment:  "Haha, white people."


what it's about:  Set in the near-future, technology controls nearly all aspects of life. But when Grey, a self-identified technophobe, has his world turned upside down, his only hope for revenge is an experimental computer chip implant called Stem.

what it's "really" about:  Hey Alexa, set a reminder to never trust computers.

standout moment:  The first time Stem takes over and fights for Grey.


what it's about:  After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begins to unravel dark secrets.

what it's "really" about:  Your family will be the death of you.

standout moment:  Mom blows up at her son during family dinner.


what it's about:  The sordid lives of an addict, an ex-con, and a luchador collide when an organ harvesting caper goes very, very wrong.

what it's "really" about:  Don't judge a book by its cover, or a man by the swastika tattoo on his face. You don't know his struggle.

standout moment:  The luchador leaves his legacy.


what it's about:  The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

what it's "really" about: Always aim for the head.

standout moment:  The ending. Duh. Let's all bask in it before it gets undone in 2019.


what it's about:  Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.

what it's "really" about:  One day, Tom Cruise will die filming one of these movies.

standout moment:  Agent Walker reloads his arms.


what it's about:  A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon.

what it's "really" about:  The moon is good place to have a cry.

standout moment:  The crater.


what it's about:  The enchanted lives of a couple in a secluded forest are brutally shattered by a nightmarish hippie cult and their demon-biker henchmen, propelling a man into a spiraling, surreal rampage of vengeance.

what it's "really" about:  Rage Cage is the best Cage.

standout moment:  Chainsaw duel.


what it's about:  A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don't apply.

what it's "really" about:  Death is the road to awe.

standout moment:  The mutant bear.


what it's about:  Never take your mistress on an annual guys' getaway, especially one devoted to hunting, a violent lesson for three wealthy married men.

what it's "really" about:  Guys, don't take "bros before hoes" so seriously.

standout moment:  The circular chase.


what it's about:  Two upper-class teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. Together, they hatch a plan to solve both of their problems, no matter what the cost.

what it's "really" about:  The Technique.

standout moment:  "You have a creepy friend."


what it's about:  Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

what it's "really" about:  Prison reformation.

standout moment:  Window cleaning.


what it's about:  An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school.

what it's "really" about:  The horrors of being in middle school. The horrors of all your insecurities and anxieties being amplified by social media. The horrors of raising a teenage daughter.

standout moment:  "Do I make you sad?"


what it's about:  Miles Morales becomes the Spider-Man of his reality and crosses paths with his counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat to all reality.

what it's "really" about:  Anyone can be Spider-Man.

standout moment:  Miles dons his official Spider-Man costume for the first time and swings through New York.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Fantastic Fest 2018 - Day 4

I finally got to watch a Korean film at the fest that's Korean-themed for this year, on the final day no less. Also got to see a Chinese film, so I went out with an Asian bang. Hmm, that sounds weird.

Movie 1:  SHADOW

I haven't seen THE GREAT WALL, but it's probably safe to say this is Zhang Yimou's triumphant return to the wuxia genre that he helped introduce to the West along with Ang Lee... or is it? The first 2/3 of the film is pretty much a historical drama with a healthy dose of political intrigue. But once you get to the last act, swords and umbrellas(?!) start clashing in a typically glorious fashion that you're used to seeing from Zhang. The look of the film is amazing -- the muted black and white (and grey) colors, the beautiful costume design, and the impeccable production design. Again, not at all unexpected if you've seen HERO and THE HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. Welcome back, Mr. Zhang.

Movie 2:  BURNING

I'm sure there are many layers to this movie that I'm currently struggling to comprehend; all I know is, I liked it. A lot. I need another viewing or two before I can form a more coherent thought on this. Also, this is Steven Yeun's best role and performance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Fantastic Fest 2018 - Day 3

Movie 1:  WEREWOLF

PSA: This is not a werewolf movie. What starts out as a Holocaust drama somehow turns into a thriller inside an abandoned mansion, then ends in an unexpected way that was better than how I imagined it would go. A pleasant surprise of the fest so far.


This wasn't what I expected from David Robert Mitchell as a followup to IT FOLLOWS. But that's probably what people said about that movie, after he debuted with THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER. He's not sticking with one genre. This is one weird ass movie. There's a lot of Hitchcock and noir here, and it very much reminded me of INHERENT VICE. Like that film, there's a lot to unpack, and it will require multiple viewings to find more clues to the overall story. Right now, it's a little too scattershot and messy for me. Oh, but that one SPIDER-MAN gag was really good.


The first 30 minutes are kinda painful to sit through, but the rest of the film manages to elevate that first act into something great. Not going to say anything else because the fun is in the surprising way this movie unfolds and adds to what you've seen before. Just remember to hold steady for those first 30 minutes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Fantastic Fest 2018 - Day 2

I didn't see any bad movies today!

Movie 1:  BORDER

This movie goes some places. It's best seen knowing little as possible so I'm going to be vague here. It feels really long, but I just checked and IMDB lists it at 1 hour 41 minutes. Can't be right. It's very slow, and in the end, it didn't really turn out to be my type of movie. But the lead performance by Eva Melander is fantastic. I would still recommend it to the adventurous types, it's worth watching once.


This movie is bonkers. Part De Palma, part Park Chan-wook, part Aronofsky, and a whole lotta insanity. How are they going to market this movie? My favorite of the festival so far.


Indonesian EVIL DEAD, but replace all the campy fun parts with family melodrama. Some scares were effective, but not particularly original. And most of the family scenes went way too long, dragging the pace down. I expected a bit more from the co-director of SAFE HAVEN (from V/H/S 2), but it's still solid for what it is.


Well this was certainly the most violent action film I've seen to date. It's a solid 3 star flick that stands out from the pack with copious amounts of blood and gore. But once it gets to the final fight between Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais, it earns an extra star. This is a step up from HEADSHOT, that's for sure. Alas, I still like THE RAID series more.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Fantastic Fest 2018 - Day 1

I'm back in Austin for my vacation away from everyone I know. Yes, it's bittersweet. No, I don't regret it. Yet.


I have a thing for movies about movie-making, especially when they're so clever about it. All in all, I'm not sure I understand what this movie is really "about", but I liked the individual scenes, more when they're a movie within the movie.


There are some amazing needle drops in this breezy crime/heist film from France. But even more amazing are the characters -- Vincent Cassel's Henri, who drones on and on about anything and everything -- Bruce, the Scottish drug lord that brings his preteen daughter to a deal -- Isabelle Adjani as the overbearing mother that loves money as much as she loves her son, and so many more -- I'm not sure which is my favorite. I would love to see sequels and spinoffs about any of these characters. This fills the OCEAN'S void rather nicely (no, I didn't forget OCEAN'S 8, I just don't care).

Movie 3:  THE GUILTY

This the best "guy talks on the phone for 90 minutes" movie. Yes, it's better than PHONE BOOTH, BURIED, and LOCKE.

Movie 4:  TUMBBAD

It has a solid premise, but the execution is severely lacking. There are couple of decent moments of horror in "chapter one" regarding the grandmother, but almost none afterwards. It just seems like an overlong TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode from India, and a bad one at that.

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Top 20 Movies of 2018

Unoriginal opening sentence wherein I express the belief that 2018 was a pretty good year for cinema, but not as great as 2017. Standard-iss...

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