2018 Ten Best List


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     2018 gave filmgoing audiences the usual array of blockbusters, sequels, and original offerings, but there were also several groundbreaking films playing both in theaters, as well as our own living rooms, in what seems to be an obvious change in the way we watch movies.  There is no better example of this than Netflix’s “Roma”, a film which was given a platform theatrical release in order to qualify for awards season, but was viewed by audiences on the streamer’s own platform rather than the traditional theater setting.  Will “Roma” and its ten Academy Award nominations pave the way for Netflix and Amazon to present their feature films exclusively on their respective platforms and skip wide theatrical release altogether?  Time will tell, but there is no question Hollywood is paying attention.  

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     It’s not often a film franchise moving into its sixth entry is able to not only up the ante in terms of action and stunt work, but also become universally praised as the best film in the series, but that’s exactly what writer/director Christopher McQuarrie accomplished with “Mission: Impossible - Fallout”.  Easily the best action film of the year, Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, leading the IMF team in their tracking down of an ominous organization seeking to possess a large quantity of plutonium.  Henry Cavill joins the group as a rogue CIA Agent and in the process turns in the best work of his career.

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     The Marvel Cinematic Universe continued its dominance amongst the comic book genre, and also managed to again raise their game in origin storytelling, while taking us to the mystical & ultra advanced world of Wakanda in “Black Panther”.  Director Ryan Coogler builds a world unlike any we have ever seen, and populates it with an endless supply of memorable and meaningful characters.  As the lead, Chadwick Boseman brings a quiet confidence to the role of T’Challa, while Michael B. Jordan is a welcome departure from the typical Marvel villain, elevating his Eric Killmonger to the kind of emotional heights that bring forth real stakes in the power struggle for the throne.  Coogler not only has created a beautiful film to look at, but also something that contains all of the very elements we typically use when determining the best films of the year. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact the film was able to outgun and outgross “Avengers: Infinity War” which came out two months later.

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     It’s sad that just prior to the release of Damien Chazelle’s “First Man”, the film was dogged by baseless reports of the film being “Un-American” because of the decision not to feature a scene in which Neil Armstrong plants the American Flag on the moon. A ploy that turned out to be false, given there is indeed a scene featuring the flag in the ground in a fantastic wide shot of the Apollo landing craft and the vast ocean that is the moon surface behind it.  Fact is, “First Man” is an exceptional film, featuring outstanding performances by Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, as well as a game supporting cast including Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, and Kyle Chandler.  Chazelle presents the experiences of these famed astronauts from a first person perspective, giving the audience a startling look at 1960s space travel and the painstaking efforts made to send humans on what was once an unthinkable mission.

     Out of nowhere, Bradley Cooper stepped into the director’s chair for the first time, directing both himself and first time feature film actress Lady Gaga, in “A Star Is Born”, the story of a veteran performer who mentors and subsequently falls in love with a lounge singer of whom he sees great potential.  Armed with what is certain to win the Oscar for Best Original Song (“Shallow”), the film relies less on its musical aspects than you would think, delivering powerhouse performances from Cooper and Gaga, but also noteworthy work from Sam Elliott and even Andrew Dice Clay.  There is also a compelling story line that goes well beyond the pitfalls of rising fame, with very powerful exploration of addiction and the helpless feeling loved ones experience when desperately trying to navigate someone they care about away from the dark places they reside in.

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     Director Barry Jenkins follows up his 2017 Best Picture winner, “Moonlight”, with “If Beale Street Could Talk”, an adaptation of the novel written by activist James Baldwin.  Featuring a breakout performance by KiKi Layne, and an Oscar nominated turn by Regina King, the film tells the 1970s set love story of Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne), as their future suddenly becomes shattered when Fonny is arrested and jailed for a crime he did not commit.  The film explores the injustices often weighing down our legal system, then and now, as the families of our two leads find ways to cope, as any chance of Fonny being released becomes less likely every month he’s incarcerated.  The scene in which Tish and her family invite Fonny’s family over to make an important announcement is easily the funniest and most shocking scene in a film this year.

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     Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone form one of the most audacious love triangles ever in director Yorgos Lanthimos’ daring “The Favourite”, a film taking place in 18th century England in which a vicious handmaiden to the Queen sets her sights on regaining her lost royalty by stepping between the Queen and her lover.  Lanthimos employs some of the most creative cinematography of the year, utilizing fish eye lenses to give an ultra wide look at the well appointed sets and gloriously over the top costumes worn by the stellar cast.  It’s no coincidence all three of these actresses are nominated for acting Oscars, nor is it surprising Lanthimos has garnered a directing nomination as well.  And though the period has been well explored in the past, you have never seen it done quite like this.

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     It’s wonderful to finally see director Spike Lee get the recognition he deserves, after a long career where despite his best efforts, he never seemed to be mentioned amongst the greatest filmmakers of his generation.  One viewing of “BlacKkKlansman” and you’ll understand exactly why he has finally broken through with his first Oscar nomination for Directing.  Based on a true story, the film chronicles the investigation into a local KKK chapter in 1970s Colorado by an African American police detective who utilizes phone conversations to establish a rapport.  Turning in outstanding work as Detective Ron Stallworth is “Ballers” star John David Washington, who is flanked by his Jewish American partner Flip Zimmerman, an equally as good Adam Driver, as they combine their talents to infiltrate the hate group and unravel a nefarious plot.  It’s top shelf work by all involved, and an extremely compelling police story with undeniable ties to today’s hate driven culture.

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     Telling a story based on director Alfonso Cuarón’s childhood in early 1970s Mexico City, “Roma” dares to change the way we watch movies, as the streaming juggernaut Netflix has positioned a true Oscar contender at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection and a device to stream it on.  Starring a host of unknown Mexcian actors, the foreign language film explores the struggles of an upper middle class family through the eyes of their housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).  The children are often forced to witness turmoil as their father leaves on business for long periods of time, and then leaves for good when infidelity is discovered.  Through it all, Cleo is on her own journey, looking for love and experiencing the joys of bringing a child into the world. But she is also fiercely dedicated to the children she has now practically raised, and Cuarón masterfully tells the story utilizing awe inspiring set pieces and stunning camera work all within the subtle confines of glorious black and white.  With every scene, you can literally feel Cuarón’s passion for this material, creating the kind of raw emotion not seen in any other film this year.

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     With the monster movie genre all but thoroughly explored over the years, it was some trick for director John Krasinski to create an original take on the genre while expanding on common tropes in a way that satisfied like no other horror film in recent memory.  Set in a post-apocalyptic world sometime in the future, “A Quiet Place” immerses the audience in a world over run by creatures whose ability to hear sound leads them directly to their next victim.  This forces the scant amount of humans left to live in silence, where even the slightest noise can mean the immediate arrival of a hoard of dastardly beasts and a gruesome end to those in the vicinity.  So why is this film so good?  Directing both himself and his real life wife, Emily Blunt, Krasinski creates an ongoing tension that lasts throughout the entire film, never letting up, even during its dramatic conclusion.  The performances are nearly wordless, and yet the sense of loss and the bond between the Abbott family is demonstrated by the desperate circumstances they have no choice but to cope with.  The film is a masterful exercise in hitting the audience hard, and allowing the consequences of the character’s every action to be their potential downfall.  There isn’t a single moment where you think anyone is safe.  The peril is real.

     Even casual movie goers can probably tell you who The Farrelly Brothers are.  The directing duo is responsible for some of the most notable comedy classics, including “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary”, for which they are credited as having single handedly created the R-rated gross out comedy genre.  Perhaps that’s why “Green Book”, directed by one half of that duo, Peter Farrelly, has an unending supply of comic humor, making it the hands down funniest film of the year.  But there’s so much more.  “Green Book” tells the true story of New York bouncer Tony Lip, who was hired in the early 1960s to accompany Dr. Don Shirley, a genius concert pianist, on a tour within the southern portion of the United States during a time of rampant and overt racism.  Lip himself displayed a number of his own racial biases, but agrees to the job given the need for money after losing his gig at a New York nightclub.  Together, the two men create a shining example as to how simple it is to respect our differences, but also realize just how similar we all are.  With a world so rich in culture and diversity, why wouldn’t we want to live a life in which we experience different ways of accomplishing the kind of change that will benefit all of us?  The relationship forged between these two men, played beautifully by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, was said to have lasted for the rest of their lives, a testament to the fact anything is possible if we can just listen to one another and put aside petty conflicts that result in more divide.  “Green Book” brings forth tremendous heart and is one of the finest entertainments I’ve seen in years.  This is the best film of 2018.

THE TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018 BY JASON HARNEY

10.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE  - FALLOUT - My Review

9.    BLACK PANTHER - My Review

8.    FIRST MAN - My Review

7.    A STAR IS BORN - My Review

6.    IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK - My Review

5.    THE FAVOURITE - My Review

4.    BLACKKKLANSMAN  -My Review

3.    ROMA - My Review

2.    A QUIET PLACE - My Review

1.    GREEN BOOK  -My Review