This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
It’s that time of the year, when I even out my absolute hatred of everything 2018 with some stuff that I loved. It’s not much, but throughout the year I had the blessings of catching some early and late movies that changed the way I viewed things, like in the case of Annihilation and If Beale Street Could Talk. Others simply had the benefit of appealing to the nostalgic side of me, like Creed II and Halloween. Now note, there are quite a few films I didn’t have the opportunity to watch because I don’t always gravitate toward that popular (good) shit. But either way, I hope that I’ve made the point that critics like myself aren’t all soulless bastards looking to roast every damn thing for roasting's sake. We can learn to love sometimes.
Here are the movies that I loved in 2018.
Has there ever been a movie that compelled you to recite the entirety of “Lift Every Voice and Sing?” Has there been a movie that made you cry during the credits? Did the combined spirits of Malcolm X and Rosa Parks drift down from the heavens and cry right there with you? Did you fist bump Malcolm’s ghost before planning that trip to Africa shortly after? Before you remember your journalist’s salary means you’re too broke to do that? Did it change your outlook on life?
While I can admit publicly that every single one of those events happened, I won’t. What I will say though, is that I never felt greater to be black in watching Black Panther. For deeper details read this, but for the skinny, there was just something about sitting in that theater, watching blackness work—not in the confines of poverty, or struggle, but in the occupation of nobility—which felt transformational. It was like discovering my hunger to see Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Angela Bassett, and everyone beautiful is presented in a way I hadn’t seen. Up until that point, the white gaze was essential to our various stories (white directors/actors/writers), further impacting my own view of myself as inferior. Black Panther, mixed-in with a fantastical story and commentary on identity and racial dualities changed that completely.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man is everything. Yes, he hasn’t always been, won’t always be ( Black Panther FTW), but for a long time, the essential truth in the Marvel Comics Universe, is that Spider-Man was bigger and better than everyone else. If he wasn’t your favorite, he was still better than your favorite, and he’s probably still your favorite’s favorite.
Having worked his way through seven damn versions of his own universe, the cinema gods provided us with an animated retelling; one that I can best describe with the following scene:
An aged, and slightly overweight Spider-Man, is re-telling his back story through stylistic exposition. He goes through that moment of kissing Mary Jane in the rain (Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man). That time he stopped a train dead in its tracks in Spider-Man 2. And finally, that awkward ass strut down a New York city sidewalk ( Spider-Man 3), to which he says, “we’re not going to talk about that.” I mention this because aside from the beautiful animation, and character relationships felt honest. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse felt amazing because it knew what it was; the seventh damn stab at this hero story. Even though it has Spider-folks in every inch of its plot, it’s still fresh in the way it takes a Puerto Rican teen from Brooklyn (Miles Morales) and uses him as a commentary on what it means to be Spider-Man. It’s the perfect mix of self-awareness, with enough “freshness” to not feel exhausting.
There isn’t a moment in Hereditary when I breathed like a normal person. I say that as someone that sits fine and even breath-ed during every gory, super stupid, forcefully disturbing moment thrown at me. So hear me when I say that Hereditary is upsetting in the most disturbing way. Think of this film like a gathering storm. It has all the trappings of what that feels like, and then BAM! Tornado. It starts with that silent score by Colin Stetson, that rises with each new sequence. And the uncomfortable feelings don’t come in a jump scare, but in a cruel portrayal of someone’s reality. This is a real family that hurts (Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro), argues, and eventually dies. Despite all the plays on the supernatural, there’s something relatable in the most fucked up way about the simple truths of family dysfunction, to the 100th degree.
What does “alien” mean in film at this point? Think about that. Like sure, I get the whole big eyed, gray skin, flying saucer deal; we all do. But it’s been the umpteenth time since Independence Day, War of the Worlds, and Alien 1, 2, 3 (never 4) presented their interpretations. So what felt alien now feels common. Now take Annihilation for instance, a film that hit me without feeling like any of that tired “E.T. come home” shit—the feeling of the truly different. To start, it was eerie in the sense that I couldn’t rationalize what I was seeing. The setup was of course familiar: Biologist Natalie Portman, along with a female cast going on an expedition to investigate an entity occupying a region. Whatevs. The one-two punch however comes in Garland’s climax, where Natalie Portman comes in contact with her doppelgänger, crafted from her own blood, staring her down as if it were learning on the fly. Granted, I was moved to read the books by the editor for a frame of reference, but I’ll never forget that image which gave new life to the word “alien.”
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Statistics show that 90 percent of the viewers like myself who walked into this movie, did so under the false assumption that Tom Cruise was old. Little did we know that we were heading into a vortex of a pre-couch-bouncing Tom Cruise doing the most to make our comparably young asses feel old as dirt. He’s riding on motorcycles, hanging off of choppers, and doing it all on his own for reasons my future mid-life, corvette-owning self will never understand, While the plot will forever be a tad bit convoluted, he’s still 56, and watching an old dude do what Tom does will never not be fun to watch.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Like a few here, I caught this one early and wrote about it, even going as far as declaring it as “a raw representation of black love.” When I wrote those words, I was in a relationship, but now I’m not. That’s a lot to reveal here, but it’s important that I mention this as a means to say how powerful this movie was in my relation to it. Barry Jenkins knew how to exhibit black love as an antidote to racial upheaval. Through music, tone, and borrowed dialogue from James Baldwin, he used the capacity for that L-word to soften wrongs, and demonstrated how that should be felt. I went in as a James Baldwin fan because he understood the vulnerable, ecstatic, and visibly unkempt idea of romance as going hand in hand with the hardships of being black in a white country. And If Beale Street Could Talk felt like it understood that shit totally.
Yeah, Yeah. Another Rocky sequel of sequels. But you can front all you want... until Michael B. Jordan and his chiseled ass calls you up, and asks if you want to hang out, and kick it. I see you going to sidewalk, scaring some folks, doing a dumb dance, tearing up, and losing all your street cred in the process before saying yes. And that’s how I feel every time a new Rocky movie calls my name. Creed II does few things different by bringing back old names (Rocky Balboa, Ivan Drago) and returning heroes (Adonis Creed) in a movie about daddy issues. But I wasn't looking for different. I got the same basic underdog on the ride story. The same basic muscle-pumping music. And the same damn outcome: Me feeling like my overweight ass needs to hit a gym.
This is my freshly squeezed OJ pulp of the year. My guy (Logan Marshall-Green) gets a computer chip implanted in his head, and said the chip makes him do things, amazingly violent things, like taking on four guys in a single room and leaving said guys really dead. It’s sublimely ridiculous in the same way Robocop is legend. There’s always something deeply satisfying about being a better anything. A better son, husband, but most importantly, a better kung-fu, ass-destroying, neck breaking, bad, bad son of a bitch.
Few movies have the right to reenter the scene after years, while asking that I forget the nine ass-smelt sequels that happened since 1978. Halloween though has that right. I mean I get it, I’m tired of seeing white dudes killing folks left and right too, but there’s something about the simpler idea of a guy in a mask—slow strut included—killing for no reason other reason than to do it. Director Danny McBride and David Gordon Green had the foresight to appeal to my better senses and bring it back to the basics; when I didn’t need a loud sound to feel the scare. Every familiar name returned, by which I mean Jamie Lee Curtis (no one else matters), and shit goes down like the rest, but only in as good of a form as John Carpenter intended it.
Eighth grade was a great time wasn’t it? No job, zero rides, homework every goddamned week, zits all over the damn place. Yeah, fuck the eighth grade. The thing about my past is that it’s never as good I remember it because it was exclusive to a time that passed. I loved Eighth Grade in contrast because it revolves around an age (13-years-old) that I should know, during a time that’s so different from my origins. Director Bo Burnham really did something special here by curving out the tiniest details about a girl (Elsie Fisher) living in a digital age, while still linking her with the commonalities of growing up innocent. I may have personally grown up in far worse neighborhood under different circumstances, but in the end, I could still relate.
Sorry to Bother You
This one was as valid to my 2018 collection of “woke” material as any other piece of art out there, even if it’s weird as fuck. In a story about a “white talking” telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) who has to choose between success and his self-respect, everything in how this movie presents that is abstract. Hell, director Boots Riley came off like an abstract personality himself (in the best way), but that’s for another story. My likes came in the names—Steve Lift, “Cash” Green—and the companies named RegalView and WorryFree that made the whole capitalist “message” easy to digest. With all the movies of the past that throw commentaries about racism and classism in my grill, it was refreshing to watch a movie unafraid to display giant horse dicks as a method of social commentary.
A Quiet Place
My greatest memory of this film is reaching for my popcorn and feeling the guilt overwhelm me with each chew. For a movie about monsters that hunt their prey based on sound, John Krasinski had to know how terrible he would make my experience. I can’t watch a movie without chewing on shit. That aside, Krasinski and Emily Blunt (his wife) do a great job acting like the believable family we know them to be, and this ride with these people in the midst of a soundless environment—doing really, really dumb things mind you—was still one of the more refreshing horror films I’d seen in a while.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Aside from my self-proclaimed godfather Levar Burton, Mr. Rogers was the dearest individual every child like myself had the benefit of watching. This guy rocked a sweater like no other, and being reintroduced to that felt like a breath of fresh air. I’m existing in a world that turned me into a cynic over the years, and Twitter hasn’t helped in suppressing that toxic streak of anger and cancel culture. In being served up Fred Rogers, with his contributions to society, I was brought back to that naïve nature that was forever soothing and sweet.
Through archival clips and family testimonials, director Morgan Neville found a method of remembrance that feels just. Still the man who could talk about death with a sympathetic tone that helped me come to grips with loss, Fred Rogers was a fucking treasure, and no amount of homophobic bashing, as beautifully chronicled by Neville can taint his damn name.
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