2018 is one month away from being half done. In my book that’s close enough to compile a halftime edition of the Best Films of 2018, and so here they are — the six best of the year so far, and by this I mean the ballsiest, the least compromised, the most transcendent, vivid and articulate, and the most likely to be remembered at year’s end: Paul Schrader‘s First Reformed, Ari Aster‘s Hereditary, John Krasinski‘s A Quiet Place, Eugene Jarecki‘s The King, Lynne Ramsay‘s You Were Never Really Here and Tony Zierra‘s Filmworker.
Yep, four narratives and two docs. No doubt about it. Most of the shills posting half-year assessments will be putting Ryan Coogler‘s Black Panther in their top five, but I don’t kowtow — it’s half of a really good Marvel flick.
I’m proclaiming this knowing that the current month of June contains, by my sights, only one solid narrative standout (Hereditary) along with a single brilliant doc (The King) and a kind, gentle, congenial heartwarmer (Morgan Neville‘s Won’t You Be My Neighbor). There is also a highly promising trio opening later this month — Brad Bird‘s Incredibles 2, Shana Feste‘s Boundaries and Stefano Sollima‘s Sicario: Day of the Soldado.
Working backwards, starting with May and ending in January but without riffs or recaps — most titles link to my original review:
May: First Reformed and Filmworker, in a walk. (The links explain why.) May’s second best doc was RBG — a steady, assured and comprehensive portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I wasn’t all that excited about Jason Reitman‘s Tully when I saw it last January, but don’t let me stop you.
April: A Quiet Place and You Were Never Really Here led the pack, but Tony Gilroy‘s Beirut was a respectable third-placer, and right after that came Sebastian Lelio‘s Disobedience and then John Curran‘s Chappaquiddick. I never got around to posting a Lean on Pete review (apologies) but it holds up pretty well in retrospect. The Rider was an honest, affecting rough-hewn exercise sans charisma or a way out of the mire.
I hated Where Is Kyra?. I Feel Pretty, which I saw late, was an off-tempo reach and an all-but-total wipeout commercially.
March: Curious as it sounds, I was a little more admiring of Steven Spielberg‘s Ready Player One — another rousing third act but also with a relatively decent beginning and middle. “I came to scoff but came away placated, and even mildly enthralled by certain portions,” I said the other day. “For what it is, you could do a lot worse than Ready Player One…strange as this sounds there were times when I actually enjoyed the ride.”
Armando Ianucci‘s The Death of Stalin may have assembled the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating outside of Black Panther (95%) “I’ve no argument with the critics who are doing handstands and cartwheels,” I wrote on 3.8, “except for the fact that it’s more LQTM funny than the laugh-out-loud kind. There’s nothing wrong with LQTM humor, which I’ve also described as no-laugh funny — you just have to get past the idea of expecting to go ‘hah-hah, ho-ho, hee-hee’ because that never really happens.”
I admired Wes Anderson‘s Isle of Dogs (“A tidy fable about good, soulful dogs joining forces with good, thoughtful humans in order to push back against the schemes of ugly, scowling humans…it’s about calmness, humanity, compassion and love…I wasn’t enormously transported in a deep-down sense as much as technically impressed by how exactingly composed it all is.”)
And I was more or less okay with Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon (“The first big-screen adaptation of a YA novel that I’ve actually half-liked…smartly written and straight-friendly, but it feels like a professional sell-job, like an advertisement for the way things ought to be in Young Gay Utopia”)
February: Ryan Coogler‘s Black Panther: “On 1.31 I raved about the final hour while lamenting that the first 75 minutes are largely lacking in narrative tension and are mostly about set-up, diversion, pageantry and obligatory battle and car-chase action sequences for their own sakes. All through the first hour-plus I was worried. I was asking myself ‘when is this film going to get it together and start moving purposefully in a direction that we all want it to go in?’ And then it finally does that, and it’s all exuberant, pedal-to-the-metal, forward-motion engagement. But you’ll need to scrutinize the recently-posted Black Panther reviews with a fine tooth comb to find even a hint of acknowledgment that it waits and waits and waits to really rev up the T-bird and put the rubber to the road.”
The 15:17 to Paris was half-tolerable but mostly underwhelming. “Weak docudrama tea and weirdly Christian to boot, but I didn’t hate it,” I wrote on 2.11. “Most of it felt like I was sitting in the back seat of an Uber or on a high-speed European train, waiting to reach my destination…was it horrifically boring? No, but it wasn’t what anyone would call engaging or riveting…it’s mildly weightless.”
But in terms of serious goodness and elemental nutrition, four foreign language releases share the prize — Sebastián Lelio‘s A Fantastic Woman, Andrej Zvyagintsev‘s Loveless and Samuel Maoz‘s Foxtrot (all from Sony Classics) and Ziad Doueiri‘s The Insult (Cohen Media Group).
It’s probably fair to call Ava DuVernay‘s A Wrinkle in Time the year’s second biggest box-office bomb after Solo — at a cost of $100 million-plus without marketing, it’s only earned $105 million worldwide. Distributors generally hope to earn triple the production cost, and so Disney was hoping for $300 million from this puppy — no way.
I called Roar Uthaugh‘s Tomb Raider “a third-rate, totally-by-the-numbers, CG-propelled exercise in female adventurer myth-building…a 21st century equivalent of Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold.” It only made $50 million and change in the U.S., but the worldwide the total is $247,782,574.
Alex Garland‘s Annihilation was easily the most overpraised film of 2018’s first quarter. “A visually imaginative, microbe-level, deep-in-the-muck monster-alien flick that will bring you down, down, down,” I wrote on 2.21.18. “Inventive in terms of the day-glo tree tumors and in a generally fungal, micro-bacterial, fiendish-mitosis sort of way, but it’s unrelentingly grim…basically a film about lambs to the slaughter.”