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Year in review for movies

December 29, 2018

Year-end lists are always a struggle. How do you rank films that are clearly meant to be digested as sheer entertainment while others are endeavors of passion with onion-like layers of context? 

So I will dispense with the usual top and bottom 10 list, and instead focus on the various cinematic highs of  2018, followed by the direct underside of each category with the depths we’ve plumbed:

The Most Visually Inventive: (Tie) “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Paddington 2.” While “Spider-Man” is deservedly getting all the end-of-season critical love, “Paddington 2” deserves another look (or a first look, as it passed through theaters quicker than a bear through a jar of marmalade).  “Spider-Man” takes CGI to the next striking level, and “Paddington” dazzles with each new scene on his London adventure. And both films manage to do so with overwhelming heart and humor. 

The Most Visually Offensive: “The Happytime Murders.” Sorry Oscar, you’ll have to relocate, as this entire film will occupy that trash can.

The Most Socially Resonant: While “BlackkKlansman” remains sadly topical even though it was based on a three-decades-old true story, “The Hate U Give” sticks in the mind – and the throat – without ever sugarcoating or padding its message. Its young star Amandla Stenberg should be considered come awards time. 

The Most Socially Dissonant: Forget that convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza’s film “Death of a Nation” is filled with dangerously false “facts” it passes off as truths. Worse is his skill as a “filmmaker” that has no adherence whatsoever to the medium he’s using.

The Most Thrilling: Six films in, and the “Mission Impossible” franchise still manages to reach new heights. With “Fallout,” Tom Cruise and company have created its most pulse-pounding installment to date. Any one of its set pieces would make a fitting climax for an action film, but in “Fallout,” each merely sets the stage for the next. 

The Least Thrilling: No amount of CGI could cover the fact that “Skyscraper” was merely the 278th “Die Hard” clone that may have featured a bigger building but never got off the ground floor.

Best Netflix Release: Alfonso Cuaron is one of the most accomplished directors working today, with such epic films as “Children of Men” and “Gravity,” but with “Roma,” he tells a much more personal tale, yet it is no less stunning. It takes a while to start, but the pace is deliberate to the narrative, and what a narrative it is. 

Worst Netflix Release: With only the most tenuous of threads connecting it to its titular franchise, “The Cloverfield Paradox” was a tired, hackey “Alien” clone that seemed to tack on the “Cloverfield” name only to pique interest. 

Best Superhero Movie: Culturally, “Black Panther” was perhaps the most important film of the superhero genre this year, but on sheer technical achievement, “Avengers: Infinity War” was a monumental challenge, weaving together countless storylines from the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a heartbreaking action film with classic tragedy, humor and heart. 

Worst Superhero Movie: This is complicated. While I did technically “enjoy” “Venom,” I by no means endorse it as a good movie and can agree with all the faults others have found with it. So while, yes, it is indeed trash ... it’s my kind of trash!

Best Science Fiction Film: This year was a strong one for female-led films, but  “Annihilation” stands out not only for its cast of Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson, but by its superior world-building in a mysterious site known as “The Shimmer.”

Worst Science Fiction Film: Sequels are always subject to taking up year-end worst lists, as they inevitably fail to live up to the predecessor’s expectations, but no film completely stripped away all elements of its source as cavalierly as “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” which took the wonder of Spielberg’s original dinosaurs and quite literally stuck them in a basement.

Best Horror Film: Like last year’s “Get Out,” 2018’s best horror was released early in the year, and it was original, lean and efficient in its storytelling. “A Quiet Place” was actor John Krasinski’s second directorial effort, and it demonstrated his skill to craft a remarkably taut tale that left audiences speechless.  

Worst Horror Film: Another franchise flick that forgot its roots was “Halloween.” Even with its checkered past of countless inferior sequels and reboots, this attempt to restore the legacy not only insulted the characters from its source, it committed a crime even worse ... it was horror with nary a scare.

Best Comedy FIlm: While “Sorry to Bother You” was a hilarious standout, it was tough to beat “Game Night” for its superlative cast of Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Kyle Chandler in this dark, comedically twisted tale. 

Worst Comedy FIlm: While I could watch old “Jackass” clips from a decade ago on a loop without wincing, it was incredibly painful to watch Johnny Knoxville’s attempt at a period comedy, “Action Point.”

Best Drama Film: Though it left no trace at the box office when it appeared, “Leave No Trace” certainly left behind scenes of quiet familial bonding in a lovely tale of a father and teen daughter living off the grid in the Oregon wilderness until a small mistake upends their lives. 

Worst Drama Film: As if the year was not brutal enough for poor MoviePass, its attempt to actually produce films was the laughably bad “Gotti,” featuring John Travolta, who hasn’t been this funny since “Look Who’s Talking.” Too bad it was meant to be serious.

Best Small-Budget Wonder: The micro-budget Australian sci-fi flick “Upgrade” is everything “Venom” should have been. Focusing on a young man whose damaged body is given new life through artificial intelligence, it was lean, mean and unseen ... which is a crime.

Worst Big-Budget Blunder: Sadly, “A Wrinkle in Time” had too much it needed to iron out before it was released on the big screen.

Best Documentary Film: This past year saw its fair amount of documentary films, but none deserved the big-screen treatment  like “Free Solo,” which followed free-climber Alex Honnold as he attempted to scale Yosemite’s 3,000-foot-high El Capitan Wall, considered the greatest climb in history. 

Worst Film Based on a Documentary: Based on a 2010 documentary, “Marwencol,” “Welcome to Marwen” is not only overly sappy, it’s actually dangerous in its message to those suffering from PTSD. 

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.