The Best Films of 2018 – Honorable Mentions (11-15)

Before I start revealing my ten favorite movies of the year later this week, I want to take some time to talk briefly about five fantastic films that just missed out on making my year-end list – here are my Honorable Mentions:

No. 11 – Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You is Boots Riley’s directorial debut, a dystopian dark comedy that follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a young African-American in Oakland working as a telemarketer at RegalView. After a veteran co-worker (Danny Glover) teaches Cash that the secret to success in this business is using your “white voice,” Cash quickly excels as he strives for the coveted promotion to “Power Caller.” All the while, Cash’s friends – and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) – plot to unionize the RegalView workplace in an effort to protest for better working conditions, which creates conflict with Cash as he continues to climb the ranks as a Power Caller. Life as a Power Caller begins to slowly unravel, and when a corporate conspiracy exposes itself, Cash is left to make a vital decision about his life.

In this film, Boots Riley takes a very simple concept (i.e., character comes from nothing, character gets success, character faces moral conundrum that pits that success against true happiness) and turns it into one of the most entertaining and unique movies I have ever seen. The dialogue pops, the characters are amusing, the acting is impeccable, and the satirical themes are absolutely spot-on. Riley’s story is one that brilliantly examines the concepts of “white privilege” and “capitalism” through its darkly comedic tone, and the satire reminded me a lot of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. However, Idiocracy made its comedy much more direct (and it really worked in that film), and after having seen both films, I much prefer Riley’s more natural comedic tendencies. This movie is a fantastic referendum on some very important social issues, and it just missed out on cracking my Top 10. Trailer:

No. 12 – Roma

Roma is a Spanish-language film directed, co-produced, written, co-edited, and shot by Alfonso Cuarón. Set in the early 1970s in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City, the film (described as a semi-autobiographical story based on Cuarón’s childhood) follows Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic worker who lives with and works for the family of Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia (Marina de Tavira).

Roma is slow movie (like, really slow), and although this sort of movie doesn’t always work, the cinematic style of Roma undeniably impresses – this is predominantly because Cuarón is its creator. In Roma, Cuarón’s dialogue is poetically deliberate, his camerawork is stunningly cautious, and his pace is delightfully unhurried. The Oscar-winning filmmaker – who has written and directed an amazing collection of films, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men, and Gravity – has developed a film in Roma that tells a story that is deeply genuine and features plot points that are both heartwarming and heartrending. Aparicio is utterly outstanding in the lead role of Cleo – as various life events cause Cleo to endure a wide range of feelings, including happiness, sadness, loss, helplessness, and hopefulness, you feel each and every one of them right along with her throughout the entire journey. Trailer:

No. 13 – Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion-animated film by writer/director Wes Anderson. The film is set in a dystopian-version of Japan in the not-so-distant future where all dogs – following a canine flu outbreak – have been exiled to an unenviable island. Against that backdrop, the story follows a young boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) as he joins forces with a few dogs on the island – including Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) – to find his lost dog Spots.

At last, Wes Anderson is back – and by “back,” I mean “wow, Wes Anderson has finally returned to the wonderful storytelling and filmmaking that made me a fan of his in the first place.” I know Anderson’s last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was nominated for nine Oscars and won four of them, but I hated it – I found the story to be bland, the dialogue to be stilted, and the film as a whole to be too heavily reliant on Anderson’s signature style. But in Isle of Dogs, Anderson has won me back over – it is essentially a combination of the distinctive stop-motion-animated style that made Fantastic Mr. Fox so remarkable and the sweet, funny, and selfless depiction of childhood innocence that made Moonrise Kingdom one of my favorite movies of all time. Trailer:

No. 14 – Minding the Gap

Minding the Gap is a documentary by filmmaker Bing Liu. Filmed over the course of more than a decade, Minding the Gap chronicles the lives of Liu and his two friends, Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, with the common thread being their shared love of skateboarding. Although the movie starts out with this simple premise, it slowly evolves into a deep and emotional exploration of the lasting traumatic effects of issues relating to race, economic hardship, and domestic abuse.

For me, the best documentaries are those that make you think and make you feel in a unique way – Minding the Gap definitely checks those boxes with ease. One of the most intriguing parts of this film is the fact that the director is personal friends with his film’s subjects – but Liu pulls no punches. Instead, he examines the complicated lives of Keire and Zack with raw emotion and undeniable honesty, and it is this aspect of purity in Liu’s filmmaking that makes Minding the Gap so emotionally affecting. Despite the remarkable exploration of his friends’ lives, the highlight of the film was when Liu turned the camera (and the plot of the film) back onto himself and his own upbringing – what a moment! This film is currently streaming on Hulu, and I encourage everyone to go check it out – you will not be disappointed. Trailer:

No. 15 – Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic dramedy (directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim) based on the bestselling novel of the same name, which follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese American economics professor at NYU who travels overseas with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to meet his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick’s family turns out to be among the wealthiest in all of Singapore. Dating one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors, Rachel finds herself having to fend off envious women within Asian high society. But the more imposing task for Rachel is vying for the approval of Nick’s domineering mother (Michelle Yeoh).

I will be honest – generally speaking, romantic dramedies aren’t my cup of tea. Unless they are done exceptionally well, I just can’t get into them. With all of that said, Crazy Rich Asians is definitely one of the best I’ve seen in the genre (ranking up there near my favorites, such as Love Actually and Crazy, Stupid, Love). Although I have not read the film’s source material, director Jon Chu’s vision in bringing this unique story to the screen was magnificent – this beautiful movie was the first from a major Hollywood studio in 25 years to feature an Asian director and a mostly Asian cast, all helmed by an Asian director. The story was refreshing, the visuals were colorful and arresting, and the movie’s cast of characters was absolutely entertaining – aside from the superb performances by the film’s leads, Awkwafina nearly stole the show as the wacky sidekick Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s best friend from college. Trailer:


Top 15 Films of 2015, No. 10 – Creed

Creed is a sports drama directed by Ryan Coogler, with a screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington. The film follows Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), an illegitimate son of former boxing great Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Despite living a privileged life and holding down a great job, Donnie has a hankering to get into the ring—boxing courses through his veins. Donnie leaves his home in Los Angeles and heads to Philadelphia, the home of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone)—his father’s former foe-turned-friend. Donnie tries to convince Rocky to train him, and despite Balboa’s many rejections to those requests, he finally agrees. Along the way to an eventual title shot, Donnie and Rocky both endure plenty of bumps in the road, but their collective desire to press on places this duo on a resilient path.

Creed2I am a committed fan of the Rocky franchise, and in Creed, my love for the series lives on. Stallone’s original Rocky (1976) was a flawless film with a beautiful story. And although the series came to a fitting end for Rocky as a competitive boxer in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the character itself endures—albeit in a new, supporting role—thanks to Ryan Coogler and Creed. This film is only Coogler’s second feature of his career. The 29-year-old USC alum debuted on the scene in 2013 with Fruitvale Station, a gripping tale of the real-life events surrounding Oscar Grant’s murder by a BART officer in Oakland, CA. That film, like Creed, features Michael B. Jordan as the lead character. These two guys are completely in sync as a team, and I sure hope they continue to work together in the future. Creed3Coogler’s direction in Creed is nothing short of masterful. He crafts a brand new, stand-alone story, but he does so in a way that pays picturesque homage to Stallone and his beloved Rocky series. In Creed, we see so many parallels between itself and Rocky, including a strikingly similar story arc—Coogler even delivers a romantic subplot that is charmingly reminiscent of Rocky and Adrian’s original affectionate connection. Additionally, one of my favorite scenes of the entire film features Donnie watching clips of his father’s infamous fight with Rocky Balboa on a big screen in his personal home theater—Donnie eventually stands up and shadow boxes with the two legends, and as the sights and sounds of the fight build with the music, I got a zillion chills. Coogler could not have drawn that scene up any better. Although this film is especially incredible to me (given that it builds upon some of my favorite sports films of all time), Coogler gives modern fans a new story that dexterously succeeds in its own individual right. I applaud Ryan Coogler for reinvigorating one of sports’ greatest tales.

Creed4As far as acting, the obvious starting point is Sylvester Stallone. In the modern age of cinema, Stallone is a household name because of his many action-packed, macho-man movies, such as The Expendables, Escape Plan, and Grudge Match. Most simply do not respect Stallone anymore as a credible performer, at least in a critically acclaimed manner—that all changes with Creed. The original Rocky (1976) garnered Stallone Oscar nominations for both Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor (the film was additionally nominated for eight more Oscars, winning three for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing) and rightfully so.Creed1 Stallone showcased his immense acting abilities in the original film, and I was as pleased as anyone to see him steal the show in Creed—he reminded us just how good of an actor he really can be (this is a huge credit to Ryan Coogler for getting the best out of Stallone). His character’s attitudes, facial expressions, and mannerisms are vintage Rocky Balboa; yet, the character is more lonely and broken down than we’ve ever seen him. It is in his delineation of these downhearted emotions that Stallone succeeds. Hard to believe that 40 years after the original Rocky was released, Stallone will (most likely) be snagging an Oscar for his portrayal of Rocky Balboa.

CRD205_000084.tifWith Rocky Balboa taking a more backseat role in Creed, Michael B. Jordan emerges as the story’s new lead, portraying Apollo Creed’s son Adonis. Jordan is a fantastic up-and-coming talent in Hollywood, and in Creed, he gives an incredibly gifted performance. Some have argued that Jordan was snubbed by the Academy. I do not believe this is true; even though Jordan delivered a brilliant portrayal in the film, the Academy’s five choices for Best Actor were simply too good this year. This fact does not lessen the importance of Michael B. Jordan’s performance, however. Adonis is a young, confused kid. He does not quite know who he is as a man, and this is visibly evidenced by his outward frustration and anger. Jordan nails these nuanced emotions to a tee, and in Adonis Creed, he has given film fans a new boxing hero. Creed11In addition to Jordan, Tessa Thompson gives a radiant performance as Donnie’s love interest Bianca, a hearing-impaired musician. As mentioned earlier, the romantic subplot of Donnie and Bianca mimics that of Rocky and Adrian from the original film, and Thompson’s beautiful acting is the fulcrum that holds this on-screen couple together—much like her performance in 2014’s Dear White People, Tessa Thompson delivers tenfold. Creed is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and some sensuality.

Creed trailer:

Academy Award nominations for Creed:

Best Supporting Actor (Sylvester Stallone)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2015:

  1. ’71
  2. Room
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  4. Beasts of No Nation
  5. The Martian