2018 was one of the most difficult years to formulate a top ten – not because there weren’t any good movies. There were too many good movies. Most of the films that came out last year were enjoyable to one degree or another. I’ve managed to get my list down, but as I see more films from 2018, it may change many times over.
The same holds true for a bottom five. Partially, it’s because I don’t like spending my limited movie budget on films I know I’m not going to like. But it’s also because there were a lot of good movies that I found something enjoyable in even my lowest-rated films.
So here are both my bottom five and top ten of 2018.
I make no bones about my fascination with Michael Bay’s Transformers films. For over a decade, Bay and the crew at Industrial Light & Magic have brought these 1980s icons to stunning life with amazing detail and stunning action set pieces.
I will concede that some of these films have been better than others. The first film is still the best of the five, by far. But even I had to admit that the films gradually lost their soul and sense of wonder with each successive release. The fifth film, The Last Knight, was definitely one of the worst. While I do love Michael Bay’s frenetic action style, it was clear that the story was running on fumes and new creative blood was needed.
The new blood manifested itself in Travis Knight’s Bumblebee, the latest Transformers film, and the first not directed by Bay. Set as a prequel (or something) to the first film, this movie was a solid rejuvenation of this now-lumbering franchise. Part 1980s coming-of-age movie (that literally takes place in the 1980s), part sci-fi action-fest, the film has placed the heart and soul firmly back in within the franchise. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.
It’s been over five decades since Walt Disney brought author P.L. Travers’ practically perfect nanny to life in his magnum opus, Mary Poppins. Now, the company that bears his name continues the story in an all-new film fantasy, Mary Poppins Returns.
I’m a very big fan of the original film. In a lot of ways, Mary Poppins Returns does indeed capture the spirit of the first film, but it’s a pretty mediocre sequel. I could imagine it was very difficult to follow something as cinematically perfect as Mary Poppins. So I will give director Rob Marshall and his crew points for even attempting such a lofty goal.
While Mary Poppins Returns‘ narrative definitely has its share of problems, there is a very strong thematic spine underneath it – something that every person in this word deals with at some point in their lives.
In 1964, Walt Disney was at the pinnacle of his power in Hollywood. He had proven time and time again to be a master storyteller by producing a bevy of cherished, classic films over four decades. And that year, he brought the world his masterpiece, Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins is the most “Disney” Disney movie that was ever made under Walt’s supervision. A fine example of pure cinema, the film exudes charm and sophistication at every turn while remaining thoroughly entertaining. Walt and his team of expert storytellers and technical wizards pulled out all the stops to make Mary Poppins truly timeless and memorable.
With the release of the film’s sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, I wanted to take a deeper look at this classic film. Just like every good movie made by Walt Disney, Mary Poppins has a strong thematic center. What makes the film relatable is that strong core, and how it revolves around not the titular magical nanny, but another character in need of learning a valuable lesson about family.
OFF WE GO! SPOILERS AHEAD
Race is at the forefront of American culture today. Despite decades of obvious societal evolution, many Americans still believe the country is in the throes of institutional discrimination or is at least headed in that direction again, which is really quite absurd and sad. Even people my age, who are far too young to have been actual victims of Jim Crow laws, feel this way.
Hollywood has reacted to this disturbing trend with many racially-based “message” films and television shows over the last few years. Not that I blame them; it’s a good business strategy to tap into the current cultural zeitgeist, no matter what the topic is.
Some of these films have done a very good job of illustrating the evils of the past and how we can work past them (Hidden Figures, Selma). Others are designed to reopen old wounds, prevent the healing of decades-long resentments, and/or signal smug, selfish, and unearned moral superiority (Detroit, Get Out, Dear White People). The former is helpful in the conversation; the latter is not.
The new film Green Book is firmly in the former category. It’s an absolutely wonderful bit of storytelling, one that is definitely on my list of the top 10 films of 2018. The film’s sincerity and good humor leap off the screen and fill one’s heart with hope, giving some much-needed perspective about just how far we’ve come as a society in the last 50 years as well as a sobering dose of positivity for the future.
This story, about a refined black piano virtuoso and the friendship he forged with his uncouth white driver in 1962, captured what is truly necessary to change a person’s heart and mind away from terrible thinking – and it isn’t through violence or the passage of draconian laws. It is truly the way of Christ.